Law enforcement warns that the holiday season is when consumers should be on high alert for scams.

“During the holiday season, when consumers are buying more, scammers are using creative ways to take your money and personal information,’’ said Acting Essex County Prosecutor Theodore N. Stephens, II. “Elderly consumers are often targeted, but thieves can be relentless in going after anyone they believe will fall for prey to these schemes.”

Gift cards are quickly becoming the preferred method of payment for scammers.  Consumers should be wary of any charity, church, business or government entity that contacts them and suggests using a gift card as a method of payment. These cards are preferred by scammers because they ultimately become an untraceable source of funds, said Stephens. 

Telephone requests for contributions or personal information should be viewed with suspicion. It is recommended that you never give to a charity over the phone. Before giving to any charity you should research them. The Federal Trade Commission recommends checking a charity’s rating with groups like the Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch and Guide Star. You may also want to check to see if the charity is registered with your state, said Stephens. 

During this season of spending it is very common to receive calls from credit card companies. If you receive such a call, you should never give out any personal information, including your Social Security number, birth date, credit card number or pin numbers. Rather than continue the call, hang up and contact your credit card company directly by calling the number on the back of your card or on your billing statement. This is the only way to ensure you are speaking to a legitimate representative of the credit card company. Representatives of government agencies such as the IRS never solicit funds over the phone, said Stephens. 

The popularity of internet shopping offers its own set of challenges. Never click on a computer link within an email to access banking institutions or online shopping sites. These links are often used to collect sensitive information like passwords or other identifying information. Minimally, you are likely to increase the amount of unsolicited advertisements and other spams on your computer. 

“Family members are urged to reach out to elderly friends and relatives to start a dialogue about scams because they are often targeted and more likely to answer a phone or to trust a stranger. Also, they are often less likely to report the fact that they have fallen victim to a scam,’’ said Stephens.

If someone believes they or someone else has been victimized by fraudulent activity, Stephens said they should immediately contact their local police department.