Police warn of tax scams as filing deadline approaches

Whether it's decking the halls, cooking that feast, shopping for gifts or just celebrating the season, the holidays are a busy time of year. Don't let would-be scammers take advantage of the chaos and make you a victim.

A study conducted through the AARP found that nearly 20% of adults in Connecticut were unable to pass a five-question quiz designed to test their ability to identify red flags — and the elderly weren't the only ones who were fooled.

“This time of year, many of us are busy with holiday preparations and social activities. Scammers hope they can take advantage of these seasonal distractions to convince us to do their nefarious bidding,” said Kathy Stokes, director of fraud prevention programs for AARP. 

Holiday scams are among some of the most common types of scams each year. According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center, thousands of people become victims of holiday scams and can rob you of hard-earned money, personal information, and, at the very least, a festive mood.

The two most prevalent of these holiday scams are non-delivery and non-payment crimes, the agency said in a press release.

In a non-delivery scam, a buyer pays for goods or services they find online but items are never received, or in non-payment scams an item is delivered but payment is never received. In 2018 alone, the FBI estimates that non-delivery and non-payment scams together affected more than 65,000 victims, causing almost $184 million in losses.

For local residents, however, local police said crimes of opportunity where the scammer is able to confuse or trick a victim in order to get a payment are more prevalent. The most common type around the holidays are gift card scams.

Police in both Westerly and Stonington said that, fortunately, there has been no increase in the number of local victims. Westerly Police Chief Shawn Lacey said in an interview earlier this year that those who have been victimized may be embarrassed or don't report it to police for a number of other reasons, however.

"My advice to anyone with concerns or who is victimized is to come forward,” Lacey said. “We are not here to judge; we are here to help."

During the holiday season, many of America’s top charities solicit donations to support their important work. Unfortunately, the FBI and AARP both report that scammers try to get in on the action to line their own pockets.

According to the AARP survey, one-third of the people questioned said they have received a request for a donation from a group that was likely fraudulent.

The survey found that only 30% of U.S. adults conduct research on a charity before giving money. Of those who do, half have decided not to proceed with a donation based on what they learned.

More than 1 in 3 Connecticut adults say they received a donation request to a charity or cause that was likely fraudulent, yet only 2 in 5 Connecticut adults who received requests for donations checked out the recipient on a charity rating site.

Worse yet, among those who did, half decided not to proceed with the donation.

Before making a donation, experts recommend using charity-rating sites such as Give.org or CharityNavigator.org to make sure the solicitation is from a legitimate organization. You can also check on what percentage of collected donations actually support the charitable purpose.

For more findings from the AARP survey and tips regarding holiday scams, visit aarp.org/SeasonsCheatings.

The Federal Trade Commission also provides regular alerts and informational posts on the latest trends and scams. For more information, including tips and alerts, visit consumer.ftc.gov/blog.

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