Volume 1 Number 48
November 29, 2004










TEXT VERSION

 


THEFT

GALLAGHER TO CONSUMERS: BEWARE OF FINANCIAL SCAMS THIS HOLIDAY SEASON

The holiday season is the time of year when the spirit of joy and giving is in the air.  Unfortunately, it’s also the time of year when scam artists often take advantage of the giving spirit.  Florida’s Chief Financial Officer Tom Gallagher is urging consumers to be extra cautious with their money to avoid financial scams.

“Take steps to protect your personal and financial information from identity theft this holiday season, especially if you are making purchases online or over the phone,” Gallagher said.  “Scam artists who get ahold of your sensitive information can wreak havoc with your finances.” 

Consumers shopping online should also take extra precautions to avoid identity theft, the nation’s fastest growing crime.  Deal only with reputable companies and take steps to secure your personal and financial information.  Gallagher said consumers often contact the state reporting they have been unable to find physical addresses or phone numbers for online businesses.  Some reported scams have resulted from transactions with overseas businesses.  “Remember, a company based outside the country is outside of our laws,” Gallagher said. 

Other ways to prevent identity theft include shredding junk mail credit card offers, reviewing all bank and credit card records and checking credit reports at least once a year.  The Department of Financial Services has available an online resource on identity theft with links to more tips and information on avoiding this costly scam.  Consumers can log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com and click the “ID Theft” banner to visit the site.

Other types of scams that often find victims this time of year are phony charitable organizations and bogus income tax scams.  An individual posing as a local charity may solicit consumers over the phone.  Potential donors should ask questions, including what the organization plans to do with the gift, and be wary of appeals that are long on emotion and short on details.  A reputable organization will never demand cash, and all checks should be made payable to the organization, never to an individual.  Florida law also requires that charitable organizations provide a copy of their annual financial report upon request.   

In addition, don’t fall victim to an income tax avoidance scheme this holiday season.  Resist the urge to file for nonexistent refunds, such as social security advances and slavery reparations.  Attempting to collect on an illegal claim can result in a $500 federal penalty.  Decline to talk with anyone offering to file a claim on your behalf for an upfront “fee.”  These individuals will cash your check and move on to the next victim.  

Gallagher also provided some advice that’s good year-round.  He advised consumers who are purchasing homes, automobiles, investments or insurance to take the time necessary to read each document or contract carefully and verify that they are dealing with a licensed company.   He urged consumers to talk with their agents or brokers about their rights and responsibilities under the law before signing any agreement.   

For questions or to file complaints, consumers may call the Department of Financial Services toll-free at 1-800-342-2762 or log on to www.MyFloridaCFO.com.

The skyline for November is the beautiful city of Lakeland in Polk County.