2015-11-25 / Front Page

NYPD: Beware Christmas Crooks, Identity Thieves

Liz Goff

Queens law enforcement officials this week released their annual warning to shoppers and cybershoppers, urging the public to be cautious when plunking down coins for those perfect holiday gifts.

Whether you choose to brave the cold and crowds or to shop via the Internet, be aware of scammers who prey on consumers searching for holiday bargains, police officials said.

Police are urging shoppers to remember that behind every “Ho! Ho! Ho!” there’s a thief, a rip-off artist, or a small time thug waiting to fill his stocking by emptying your pockets.

It’s a sad fact of life, law enforcement officials said. Crime and criminals don’t take a holiday. Crooks love this time of year, when frenzied shoppers hit commercial strips, malls and flea markets looking for something special to put under the tree. Which is precisely why Queens police officials beef-up patrols along commercial strips and at shopping malls during the holiday season.

Police this year have added Identity Theft to their annual “beware” list for holiday shoppers – thieves who “skim” your personal information from credit and debit cards, wreaking havoc that can take years to repair.

Queens District Attorney Richard Brown and NYPD officials are urging consumers to remain alert when using ATM machines located in local shops, convenience stores and shopping malls where criminals insert “skimming” devices that steal personal information from unwary users.

“These criminals walk up to an ATM in a supermarket, a 7-Eleven store or locations at locations other than a bank and pretend to be making a transaction,” officials said. “Instead, they are inserting a card-skimming device into the ATM that will steal information from everyone that uses the machine.”  It takes thieves less than 90 seconds to install the skimmer, some of which are equipped with a camera that records the user as he or she punches in their PIN number, NYPD officials said.

Officials said card users may often thwart use of the skimmers by pulling on the slot where cards are inserted into ATM machines before you insert your debit or credit card. The skimmer should easily come off the machine when you pull on the slot, officials said. “Then it’s time for you to immediately call 911 for assistance.”

Officials said it is safer to use ATM machines inside banks, especially during the holiday season. “These people know many users are too busy or just do not want to go to a bank to make a transaction at this time of year,” officials said. “Don’t give them an opportunity to rip you off.”

For more information on how to avoid becoming a victim of identity theft, call the Crime Prevention officer at your local precinct or detectives at the Queens District Attorney’s Economic Crime Unit.

NYPD Assistant Chief Diana Pizzuti, commander of Queens North SATCom, warns that: most criminals are opportunists who take advantage of situations that are presented to them. The key to crime prevention during the holiday season is to remove opportunities for criminals who are just waiting to make you a victim.

If you feel uncomfortable in a holiday crowd, or if you sense that you are being watched or followed, seek help immediately. Remember, people have been seriously injured, and worse, trying to fight off purse-snatchers. Is it worth being injured to protect what you are carrying?

In this new-millennium age of possible terrorist activity, shoppers should remain aware of their surroundings, Pizzuti said.

If you see a bag or package left unattended, DO NOT attempt to open it to check on its contents. Call 911, stop a passing police car or alert mall security personnel and alert them to the location of the package - and stay away from the package!

Be aware of threatening or suspicious activity by people around you. If you see a suspicious person, or someone acting in a threatening or suspicious way, call 911, stop a passing police car or alert mall security, police said. DO NOT attempt to confront the person on your own. Watch, listen, take action, and stand away.  Let trained responders handle the situation.

Remember, criminals are everywhere during the holiday season, Pizzuti said. They’re out there, poised and waiting to grab your holiday cash or credit cards. It isn’t hard to get caught-up in the hustle and bustle of holiday shopping. Just remember, lurking behind those twinkling lights and brightly colored holiday displays is a seasonal scourge of: pickpockets, thieves, con artists and scam-artists just waiting to hustle you out of your holiday, Pizzuti said.

Stay alert, stay on your guard and don’t let thieves and con artists steal your holidays, Pizzuti said. “And have a very happy – and safe holiday season!”


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