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Kentuckians are losing more money than ever to scams. Don’t miss these red flags

It’s GivingTuesday, the day when Americans open their wallets for charities and all sorts of causes.

But it also presents a golden opportunity for particularly unscrupulous scammers hoping to line their pockets. That’s why the office of Kentucky’s attorney general is reminding commonwealth residents stay alert.

We spoke with LaDonna Koehler, who directs the Office of Senior Protection, for tips to avoid becoming a victim of a phony charity or a shady online retailer. Here’s what to know.

Kentuckians report losing millions to scams

More Kentuckians have fallen prey to scams in recent years, so much so the amount of losses has more than doubled each year between 2020 and 2022, according to the attorney general’s office.

In late 2022, the office reported state residents had lost more than $29 million. That was up from $13 million in 2021 and $5 million in 2020.

Zooming out to a national view, older adults are generally the biggest victims to scams, with the Federal Trade Commission reporting the demographic lost more than $1.6 billion to fraud last year.

Still, anyone can be fooled. We’ve rounded up some general tips to keep in mind to protect yourself from holiday scams.

Don’t get conned by cockamamie charities

According to Koehler, you should be mindful of fraudulent charities seeking your donation, which can be common this time of year.

Perhaps most importantly, and especially when dealing with online transactions, make sure your payment method is secure. That typically means paying with a credit card, since it offers more security and a way to dispute fraudulent charges.

Venmo and other popular digital wallet apps may be convenient, but it’s essentially like handing over your cash to someone, which makes it less secure, Koehler said. Sticking to a credit card is typically the safer bet, and if someone is demanding donations via cryptocurrency or a digital wallet app, that’s a red flag.

Koehler recommends a few other tips to keep yourself safe:

  1. Research the charity before you donate. This is easier than ever with resources like Charity Navigator or the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance. You can also punch in the name of the charity with terms like “complaint,” “review” or “scam” into your preferred search engine.

  2. Pay close attention to who you’re giving money to. Scammers may attempt to spoof a legitimate and well-known charity with website names or email addresses that closely mimic the real name. They could be off by just one letter, but scammers are banking on the difference escaping your notice.

  3. Don’t feel rushed. Beware of high-pressure tactics. If you feel rushed into making a spur-of-the-moment donation, think twice.

  4. Be cautious of GoFundMe or similar fundraising platforms. This is especially true if you don’t know the person asking for donations.

  5. Report charity scams to the Kentucky attorney general’s office. While it may not be able to help you recover your money, it doesn’t hurt to ask. The office can also help you figure out what to do next to protect yourself. Be sure to report the scam to ag.ky.gov/scams and to the Federal Trade Commission. Your report could help protect others and bring criminals to justice.

Do you have a question about fraud or scams in Kentucky for our service journalism team? Let us know via the Know Your Kentucky form below or by contacting us at ask@herald-leader.com.