How to Avoid Holiday (and Anytime) Scams

by Dara Salk

Last year, my mother-in-law received a call from a young man who said he was her grandson; he was in Mexico, in trouble and needed money. Thank goodness she is in close touch with my son and knew where he was. She yelled at the caller and told him off.

We’ve all heard about scams — staying safe means not falling for one. How can we avoid scams?

Telemarketing Calls: Don’t take unsolicited calls. If you are in need of a new service, find one yourself or ask a friend for a recommendation. Sign up for the Do Not Call Registry by visiting or call: 1-888-1222

If you take a call and you’re interested in what the caller is talking about, ask for the offer in writing. If you aren’t interested, simply hang up.

Door-to-Door Sales: Do not open the door to anyone unless you initiated the call.

Charitable Contributions: Do not give a donation to any charity you don’t know. Can you guess how many charities have the word “cancer” in them? How do you know if it’s a legitimate charity? If you receive a call asking for a donation, tell them to send the request in the mail. Ask for a current financial statement.

For Home Repairs: Get at least three written estimates, check references and never sign a contract that has blank spaces. Always ask for proof of insurance. Never pay for anything in full before the job is finished.

Health Care Products: Anything that is marketed as a quick, effective cure-all, especially for a diverse set of ailments, isn’t real. Back away if the information is written in jargon you don’t understand or if you are asked for payment up front or you’re promised a no-risk, money-back guarantee. Talk to your health care provider or pharmacist if you need something.

Sweepstakes: Don’t fall for prizes available only if you make a purchase, or letters that claim “You may be the next $10 million winner.” Ask specific questions about the odds of winning. Remember, the law requires that you have an equal chance of winning, even if you don’t make any purchases.

How do you know who to trust? For more tips and information, including how to file a consumer complaint, print and save this handy Scam Info chart (PDF) from the office of Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan.

You can also call the Attorney General’s office: 1-800-386-5438


Forward Chicago, an all-volunteer nonprofit organization, envisions our neighborhoods as model communities for people of all ages, where residents can age in place while remaining active, engaged and influential.

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