It’s the time of year when - touched by the holiday spirit - many people want to give.
The problem is, there are a lot of cheats, cons, grifters and scammers out there who want to take advantage of that goodwill.
And Nevada is already the third-most fraudulent state after Florida and Georgia.
It’s a problem Nevada Attorney General Aaron Ford is well aware of. When he was elected a year ago, he made targeting scammers one of his top priorities.
Ford told KNPR's State of Nevada that many of the scams this time of year center around shopping. He said people are often taken in by websites that seem legitimate but aren't.
He said people should check to see if a website uses encrypted security measures before typing in credit card information. To know if a site is secure, look for the small icon of a lock near the site's web address.
"What can happen is you can put your information in on these fake websites, your credit card information, and then they're off to the races," the attorney general warned.
Besides fraudulent websites, scammers are calling people to coax people into giving up credit card or Social Security information. They'll claim they're from the IRS or the Social Security office.
Ford even received a call from someone claiming he wasn't up to date on his taxes - he is - and they needed to talk to him to fix the problem. They left a voice mail and Ford didn't call them back.
Even more insidious, some scammers will call and claim they're a relative who is in trouble and needs money immediately.
Laura Tucker, senior deputy attorney general in the AG's Bureau of Consumer Protection, said phone numbers aren't difficult to get. People give them out frequently, often without thinking about it. Plus, hackers have stolen the personal information from millions of people by breaking into the databases of dozens of companies over the years.'
"A lot of times, when you pick up the phone, the person on the other line might just say 'Grandpa? or Grandma?'" Tucker said. "And then you'll say, 'Oh! Is that you Adam?' Then they've got the name of your grandson. They know you've got a grandson and that's one of the manipulations type things or tricks that they use to try to get information out of you."
Tucker said more sophisticated crooks will look at social media accounts before contacting a victim to try to glean even more information to make it seem more realistic.
Ford advises people to hang up and call the relative claiming to be in trouble. He also suggested asking the person on the phone something only the relative would know, like specifics about their last face-to-face meeting.
And finally, he said don't feel pressured to react to an emergency right away; scammers use that urgency to get you to make a mistake.
Ford added that the best solution is: don't answer the phone if you don't recognize the number. The caller can always leave a message and you can call them back.
Tucker said while her office and other consumer protection agencies work to find these scammers, it's difficult because the calls often come from outside the country.
Scammers can use what's known as spoofing technology to make it seem like the call is coming from your area code.
Beyond calls and fraud websites, this time of year a lot of people are ordering holiday gifts online and having them delivered. This can lead to what are known as "porch pirates"--people who steal delivery packages dropped off at your front door.
Ford had several tips to avoid having a package swiped.
"Whenever possible, we suggest you make arrangements so that your packages won't be left unattended at your door," he said.
"If you know your packages are going to be arriving during work hours, consider arranging for delivery to your workplace - if possible. Some major retailers also offer multiple delivery speeds, and special delivery at pickup options, allowing for you to pick up your package at a central warehouse or at a locker... and consider getting one of those cameras that people have on their doorbells so that... if something is stolen, you can share it with the police and maybe they can track it down."
A caller suggested getting a wooden box that sits near your front door so a delivery can be put into the box and won't be visible from the street.
10 Things You Can Do to Avoid Fraud from the Federal Trade Commission
Spot imposters. Scammers often pretend to be someone you trust, like a government official, a family member, a charity, or a company you do business with. Don’t send money or give out personal information in response to an unexpected request — whether it comes as a text, a phone call, or an email.
Do online searches. Type a company or product name into your favorite search engine with words like “review,” “complaint” or “scam.” Or search for a phrase that describes your situation, like “IRS call.” You can even search for phone numbers to see if other people have reported them as scams.
Don’t believe your caller ID. Technology makes it easy for scammers to fake caller ID information, so the name and number you see aren’t always real. If someone calls asking for money or personal information, hang up. If you think the caller might be telling the truth, call back to a number you know is genuine.
Don’t pay upfront for a promise. Someone might ask you to pay in advance for things like debt relief, credit and loan offers, mortgage assistance, or a job. They might even say you’ve won a prize, but first you have to pay taxes or fees. If you do, they will probably take the money and disappear.
Consider how you pay. Credit cards have significant fraud protection built in, but some payment methods don’t. Wiring money through services like Western Union or MoneyGram is risky because it’s nearly impossible to get your money back. That’s also true for reloadable cards (like MoneyPak or Reloadit) and gift cards (like iTunes or Google Play). Government offices and honest companies won’t require you to use these payment methods.
Talk to someone. Before you give up your money or personal information, talk to someone you trust. Con artists want you to make decisions in a hurry. They might even threaten you. Slow down, check out the story, do an online search, consult an expert — or just tell a friend.
Hang up on robocalls. If you answer the phone and hear a recorded sales pitch, hang up and report it to the FTC. These calls are illegal, and often the products are bogus. Don’t press 1 to speak to a person or to be taken off the list. That could lead to more calls.
Be skeptical about free trial offers. Some companies use free trials to sign you up for products and bill you every month until you cancel. Before you agree to a free trial, research the company and read the cancellation policy. And always review your monthly statements for charges you don’t recognize.
Don’t deposit a check and wire money back. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. If a check you deposit turns out to be a fake, you’re responsible for repaying the bank.
Sign up for free scam alerts from the FTC at ftc.gov/scams. Get the latest tips and advice about scams sent right to your inbox.
Consumer Protection Hotline
Advice from Nevada Consumer Affairs:
If you suspect a scam:
From NPR: A Guide To Holiday Scams
Aaron Ford, attorney general, State of Nevada: Laura Tucker, senior deputy attorney general, Office of the Nevada Attorney General, Bureau of Consumer Protection