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Don't get scammed this holiday season. 

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Incidents of fraud are increasing as the December holidays draw closer. Consider the following:

‘Porch pirates’ and ‘mailboxing’

Numerous consumer protection services report an increase in both of these crimes, which can lead to scams. “Porch pirates” track parcels or postal delivery trucks, and grab packages as soon as they are delivered. This might not seem to be a scam, but what happens next is where fraud occurs. Criminals might obtain valuable personal information from package labels or packing slips, and they might attempt to return items to collect refunds. The scam affects the sender of the parcel, who believes that it was delivered to the intended recipient.

“Mailboxing” involves the theft of either incoming or outgoing mail from rural mailboxes. Beyond personal information, thieves are able to intercept checks that can be forged or provide opportunities to attack accounts directly (think about the information displayed on a check: name, address, phone, account and routing number, signature). Stop criminals by directing parcel services to make deliveries at specified times only, require a signature or hold items at an indicated location for pickup. Consider purchasing a lockable drop box for your home where items can be safely delivered. Deter mailboxing with a lockable mailbox for deliveries and refrain from leaving mail for pickup in a rural mailbox. Make a decision: Opt for the convenience of the home mailbox or change your behavior and accept the inconvenience and safety of a postal mailbox or post office.

Avoid using debit cards

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True, there is a convenience to using them, but it comes with a danger. A recent email message from “Sheila” in Western Massachusetts states that while traveling, she used a web search to locate a rental car agency. She called the number provided by the search and used a debit card to reserve the car. It was a scam. Money was immediately withdrawn from her bank account, but there was no car. With the money gone, she needed to act within a few days to convince her bank that a scam had occurred. Had she used a credit card, the charge would have appeared on the account statement and could have been challenged before payment was due. Reserve debit cards for emergencies or for cash withdrawals at bank branch locations. As a side note: Statistically, people who use debit cards generally do not record transactions and are more likely to incur overdraft fees.

Practice ‘Due Diligence’

When enrolling or changing Medicare plan coverage as the Medicare open enrollment period closes, the intensity of plan promotion increases. Any enrollment or change needs to be carefully considered. We are seeing two types of legal plan promotion: one from insurance companies and one from insurance brokers. In the former case, several well-known companies such as United Health Care, Humana and Blue Cross/Blue Shield are advertising the plans they offer. In the latter, insurance brokers using celebrity endorsements offer benefit plans. Both of these approaches cannot use direct, personal contacts, so they use mass mailings or media.

Scammers, on the other hand, violate the law by calling or emailing people directly. If you receive a call from “Medicare Services” or some similar organization, hang up. If you receive an email promising great benefits, delete it. These are not legitimate offers.

Considering enrollment or program change to be a major financial decision. Begin the process at the website medicare.gov. You can compare available plans in your state, including all the costs and features of enrollment. Don’t let the word “free” influence a decision, and don’t give personal information or your Medicare number to anyone unless you are enrolling with that provider. There is no such thing as free when dealing with any insurance company. Subscribers will make some form of payment; fees for service, premiums, deductibles, or co-payments. Be sure to know all the costs and benefits before deciding. Don’t let emotion replace reason and logic as we prepare for celebrations.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network who produces the CAT-TV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland.