If it sounds too good to be true, it's probably a scam. 

Here is some important information about the most recent scams, as well as some reminders about the historic scams that still plague us during the holidays and beyond. 

1. Gift Card Scams

This latest holiday scam is where crooks go to the gift card display rack and start writing down the numbers off those cards. They then call to find the balance on the card and proceed to shop online using your gift card number. This usually works because most of the holiday gift cards won't be opened and used until the day of or after Christmas. By then, the thieves have already had time to wipe the gift card clean of all of the money that was initially purchased on it. Only purchase gift cards from major department stores or stores that keep their gift cards locked up or behind the counter.

gift card rack

Courtesy of Doctor of Credit

2. Imposter Scams

Imposter scams have been steadily increasing since information is so easily accessible on the internet. Its heightened visibility has made fraud a new occupation for many. If you have received a call from someone claiming they are contacting you on behalf of the IRS, that you owe them money and must pay them immediately or they will call the police and have you arrested, don't fall for it! 

"Be advised," says Beth Silverman of the Office of Consumer Protection."The police do not get involved in debt collection. Never send anyone money based on a harrassing phone call or mail demand." 

3. Grandparent Scams

Every year, sweet, innocent grandparents receive bogus calls from someone claiming that their grandchild is in trouble and needs money immediately wired to them. Sometimes they say it's for bail, a gambling debt, traffic tickets, or something else along those lines. The idea is to play on the emotions of the grandparent by using fear and uncertainty. 

Beth Silverman's advice: "Hang up the phone, calm down, and think. Next, call your grandchild or another relative to confirm the grandchild's location and to speak directly to them. Never give out your personal information to a stranger!"                               

4. Computer Scams

Have you received a call from someone claiming to be your Microsoft provider, saying your computer is malfunctioning? They then proceed to ask you for remote access. Don't give it to them! Once they have entry into the hard drive of your modem, they can steal all of your personal information (i.e., credit card numbers and passwords, banking information, etc.), including your identity.

5. Free Check Scams

These fake checks come in the mail and look like legitimate checks but usually have one or two details missing or misspelled words. They usually ask you to wire them money for taxes and fees. Beware: Your money will go up in smoke. Do not attempt to cash these checks or you will end up paying hefty bank fees for insufficient funds! If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is a scam.

6. Tree Service and Driveway Paving Scams 

This scam involves people coming to your home and offering to cut down certain trees in your yard or pave your driveway. They tell you to pay them a down payment before or once they begin the work. The problem is that they either take your money and you never see them again, or they take your money and begin the job, but never complete it. Only do business with reputable companies that you are familiar with, or ones you have thoroughly researched!

For more information about these, other scams, and how to protect yourself, contact one of the following agencies:

The advice in this article was largely taken from information provided in a seminar at the East Columbia Library, sponsored by the Howard County Office on Aging and Independence, Office of Consumer Protection, and the Howard County Sheriff's Office.