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'Tis the season to be scammed

EGLIN AIR FORCE BASE, Fla. -- The holiday season is almost here. Ah, the smell of the turkey in the oven and homemade pies and let's not forget those gifts waiting to be unwrapped. The holiday season brings joy to most of us, but for those who don't use good Operational Security principles might just find themselves the victim of a scam, or worse, their identity stolen.

"White collar" crimes such as scams and identity theft seem to increase during hard times and especially during the holiday season. The "scam artist," or the person who takes on the identity of their victims, preys on those who are gullible or just not careful with their personal information. You and your family do not have to fall victim to a scam or identity theft if you remember and use some key OPSEC principles.

When we discuss OPSEC at work, we mainly focus our attention to our unit critical information lists and those indicators that we give off to the adversary. At home, well, just think of yourself as a piece of critical information that the scam artist or the person wanting to steal your identity is seeking. You provide indicators like throwing away your bank statement or credit card bills in the trash; you use your credit card to purchase merchandize that you've seen on the Internet that does not offer protection or does not display that little lock tucked in the corner of the screen or you call back that phone number listed on the text message sent to you over your cell phone advising you to immediately call because your bank account has been frozen; and the list goes on. Now do you see where this is going?

You don't have to fall prey and become one of those victims of the scam artist or the identity stealer during the holiday season if you apply OPSEC to your everyday living. The first and most important step is to practice the "need-to-know" principle involving your personal information. If someone calls or text messages you looking to verify your credit card and bank account information, beware! Banks and credit card companies already have that personal information on file so ask yourself, "Why should I verify this information?" Another rule of thumb to follow is if something sounds "too good to be true," you can bet you're right. Take for example the scam e-mails asking for your assistance in the transfer of millions of dollars to some cause that the sender of the e-mail is supporting but needs just a little information from you to make the transaction possible, like your bank account number, home address and phone number, etc. Sounds ridiculous doesn't it? But, yet we still have people who continue to fall for stuff like this.

If you find yourself in one of these predicaments mentioned in the previous paragraphs, take a step back and say to yourself, "does this pass the common sense test?" before you react. In addition, there are avenues where you can go and verify the legitimacy of the request to include the company if known. For example, the Okaloosa County Sheriff's Office has a Crime Prevention Specialist that can be reached at 651-7153 for the latest scams making the rounds throughout Okaloosa County, or you can sign up for the monthly CASE Fraud Alert which comes out on the 15th of each month at abailey@sheriff-okaloosa.org. Additionally, the Criminal Investigations Branch of our local office of investigations can be contacted at 882-4795 to provide details on the latest scams circulating to include reporting procedures on Identity Theft to civil authorities. Your local bank and/or credit union is also an additional source of information for the latest news on scams going around. Another avenue at your disposal is your local community's Better Business Bureau which maintains a listing of companies who have complaints made against them. For those who are interested in preventing Identity Theft, or who have had their identity stolen, use or access the Department of Justice Web Site at http://www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/websites/idtheft.html to learn more about Identity Theft. Now, sit back and enjoy the holidays with friends and family because you are empowered with OPSEC!