Fa la la la la. Scam artists are ready to ring in the holiday season with offers all aglow, said University of Missouri Extension family financial specialist Virgil Woolridge.

Many scams will be wrapped with appealing offers that sound too good to be true. And they are.

In 2014, the average fraud victim lost $2,000. Consumers nationwide lost $1.7 billion. And consumer fraud is growing, Woolridge said. The 2014 amounts represented a 16 percent increase over 2013.

Most fraud victims fall prey to telephone contacts, he said. This may be because scam artists target senior citizens, the largest group with listed landline telephone numbers.

Woolridge said you should never give out information such as Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers over the telephone.

Scam artists often play on people’s desire to be kind. They ask leading questions or pretend that they know information about you. Letters and emails can appear to be official. Misspellings or grammatical errors are clues to scams.

Woolridge lists the Top 10 scams in 2015:

• Internet merchandise scams;

• Phishing or spoofing emails;

• Fake prizes, sweepstakes, free gifts, lottery scams;

• Fake check payments or credit card offers;

• Recovery or refund companies;

• Loan scams and credit fixers;

• Computer performance scams;

• Scholarship, student loan and financial aid scams;

• Online dating scams and fake Facebook friend scams.

Alert law enforcement if you are a victim of a scam. Always verify before sending money for a service that requires that you pay in advance, Woolridge said. Most scam artists try to pressure you into making a decision right away.

“Don’t get in a big hurry,” he said. “Verify. Verify. Verify.”

Thwart high-pressure telephone tactics by asking for something in writing, Woolridge said. While some offers may be unethical, they aren’t necessarily illegal, he adds.

Some of the things that are not fraud are selling as-is, no warranty, predatory pricing, predatory lending, confusing or unclear advertising, and most things you signed in a written contract.

“It may be unethical or not good business practice, but if it’s not illegal, it’s not fraud,” Woolridge said.

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