Seasons Cheatings! The hills are alive with the sound of scammers.

Recently, the Federal Trade Commission issued a scam warning for National Pet Adoption Week. This season is a time of the year when many consider pets as great holiday gifts, but scammers see opportunity. Well-designed websites or social media posts advertise pet adoptions (aka purchases) as perfect family gifts. Stock photos display fake details, including mention of pedigree credentials and appropriateness for “loving” families.

Knowing that pets with credentials can run in the thousands of dollars, criminals guarantee expedited delivery but require payment by Venmo, gift card, wire service or even cryptocurrency. Once payment occurs, the “breeder” is gone, and the untraceable payment vanishes. Avoiding this type of scam requires both diligence and persistence but is worth the time and effort to ensure that you end up with the desired friend.

Begin checking local rescue or animal shelters on line or preferably in person. Adoptions carry a small fee, and in most cases the pet will be vaccinated and spayed or neutered. Research the adoption service or breeder. Check the Better Business Bureau for any ratings. You can also use an online search engine adding the word “complain” or “scam” or “rating” to the name of the agency.

According to the FTC, your third step is a bit more complex. Check to see if a picture is a “stock photo” or a photo from somewhere else. Enter “reverse image search” on your web browser for how-to instructions.

Ask to do a live or virtual visit so you can see your new friend; strongly encouraged by legitimate adoption groups. Finally, use a credit card for payment as it provides the most protection to you as a buyer (You may also want to purchase pet insurance).

As seasonal holidays arrive, vulnerability to scams increases. Anxiety, maybe panic, replaces common sense and reason. Scammers call this being “under the ether” and count on it as one way to score big results for their efforts.

Newer on the scene is the fake data breach; a phone call, text message, or email notification of a data breach occurring at a bank, business or service provider. Reports of breaches are frequent news items, so the imposter message is not taken lightly.

The criminal hopes that the nature of the message triggers panic (the ether), and you react by responding as instructed. If that happens, you are half way into becoming a victim. That seemingly innocent action acknowledges your existence and provides data including your location and the kind of device you use. By continuing to respond, the criminal has the opportunity to convince you to provide essential personal information such as a Social Security, Medicare or driver’s license number.

In most cases, notice of a real data breach will not include callback numbers or website links. They will simply ask you to contact them. Notification of a breach frequently comes by mail. Regardless, never respond by using the callback number or clicking the link. Respond using contact information from a statement, credit card or self-initiated web search.

Don’t act with a feeling that your education makes you too smart to be scammed. Scammers are professional criminals who know how to rattle you. People with higher education make juicier targets given higher income levels.

Elliott Greenblott is a retired educator and the Vermont coordinator of the AARP Fraud Watch Network. He produces a feature CATV program, “Mr. Scammer,” distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt. More information can be found at gnat-tv.org. Questions, concerns? Contact Elliott at egreenblott@aarp.org.

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