Be Aware of Scams During the Holiday Season — and Always

November 04, 2021 By: Carla Hulsey Pate

With all the activity the holidays bring, the season is a popular time of year for scammers to take advantage of people that may be distracted by the holiday cheer. 

In 2020, victims reported 16 scam attempts to The University of Texas Police at Houston (UT Police). In 2021 to date, there have been 12 incidents of scamming reported to UT Police. 

Out of the 12 this year, nine were phone scams (via text or phone call), two were email scams, and was an online scam. In at least one reported incident in 2020, the scammer attempted to defraud MD Anderson out of over $1 million.

According to the Federal Bureau of Investigation’s Internet Crime Complaint Center 12,827 people reported being victims of government impersonation scams in 2020, with losses totaling $109,938,030.

In a disturbing incident, an MD Anderson employee received a phone call that his wife had been kidnapped and scammers attempted to extort money from him. As it turned out, the scammer made up the kidnapping and no one was in danger. Fortunately, the man did not fall victim to the scam attempt and his wife was unharmed. 

All kinds of scams are prevalent during this time of year including holiday phishing cons, holiday shopping scams, identity theft, ATM skimmers, fake data breach claims and impersonation scams.

Three of the 12 reported scams this year were phone scams from people posing as agents from the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). 

Always opportunistic, scammers target people during the holidays hoping that they will be too busy to notice the red flags of a typical scam.

“The majority of the reported cases are phishing scams that are accomplished via phone call or email, including impersonating members of the federal government,” said Samantha Russo, associate threat and risk analyst at UT Police. “These scams have been used to gain monetary or personal information from the victim.”

However, in the majority of scam incidents reported to UT Police, workforce members did not give away their money or personal information, which is a good sign, said Russo.

Both, MD Anderson and UTHealth Houston, routinely “phish” employees for practice. MD Anderson also has added a Phishing Alert button to Microsoft Outlook to make it easier for its own workforce members to report suspicious emails. 

Russo said that while phishing scams are the highest reported scam on our campuses, scammers also solicit money on site. 
In these cases, people solicit money inside institutional buildings and outside the entrances sometimes posing as contract workers. In one incident, a person posed as a waste management crew member and tried to convince an employee that they needed to buy a lock for a dumpster from them. 

While soliciting on public property is legal in Houston, it is prohibited inside institutional buildings. UT Police routinely patrols these areas on the lookout for suspicious behavior and encourages its community to report infractions to the UT Police non-emergency phone number 24/7 at (713) 792-2890.

According to Assistant Chief of Police Vicki King, UT Police has also seen an increase in text message phishing scams which often use the name of nationally known cell phone providers and the lure of money. The unsolicited text message tells the recipient that they were overcharged and are due a refund.

“Never click on these links,” said King. “Instead, always go to your provider’s website and log into your account for accurate billing information.”

UT Police encourages its community to remain vigilant and alert during the upcoming holiday season. You are the best guardian of your online and personal safety.?Stay aware, stay informed, and stay connected with UT Police if you have a question or concern.

You can find a list of scams and how to spot them on the UT Police Scams webpage, which provides information on common techniques scammers will use to take advantage of others. However, there is no shortage of websites to educate consumers about common scams. 
If you are a victim of a scam or need to report a scam, contact your local law enforcement agency or UT Police at (713) 792-2890.

Upcoming Classes

Join UT Police for its Don’t Fall For It series scheduled in November and December. People interested can attend Don't fall For It: Scams and How to Spot Them and/or Don't Fall For It: Staying Safe from Imposter Scams held virtually via Zoom. View a complete class calendar on the Campus Safety section of the UT Police website. 

Scams Resources

The following websites will help you to learn, avoid and report common scams.

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