AG Shapiro: Watch out for increased scams this holiday season

WILKES-BARRE — Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week issued a warning to Pennsylvanians to watch out for common online scams that may increase in frequency this holiday season. “Because of the pandemic, this holiday season looks and feels different than those in the past,” Shapiro said. “These scams are present […]

WILKES-BARRE — Attorney General Josh Shapiro this week issued a warning to Pennsylvanians to watch out for common online scams that may increase in frequency this holiday season.

“Because of the pandemic, this holiday season looks and feels different than those in the past,” Shapiro said. “These scams are present all year long and it is important that Pennsylvanians remain on guard. Make sure you know what these scams look like in order to protect your money, your identity, and your personal information.”

Here are some common scams the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General is aware of:

Email and Text Phishing: In a phishing email or text scheme, you may receive an email or text message directing you to enter personal information on a fraudulent website. These fraudulent emails or texts can appear to be from a shipping/delivery company or retailer that may claim to be an order confirmation you didn’t place.

Delivery Stealing: If no one is home when deliveries are made, try to make arrangements with a trusted neighbor to hold your deliveries until you arrive home, or ask your employer if your deliveries can be dropped off at your place of employment.

Credit Card Skimming: Be vigilant of credit card skimmers that steal your credit and debit card information at the ATM, gas pump, or other payment kiosks. Instead of inserting your credit or debit card into the slot of a merchant’s payment processing machine, consider using a payment app on your smartphone. For Pennsylvanians without smartphones, keeping track of your bank statements and transactions is also crucial to any lost money taken by skimmers.

Romance Scams: Romance scammers strike up what appears to be a serious relationship, then ask their victims to pay for plane tickets, customs fees, visas. In addition, they may appear to transfer a large sum of money to a victim’s checking account, but the money transfer turns out to be fake.

Online Pet Scams: Pet sale scammers pose as online retailers, charging hundreds or thousands of dollars for the puppy or kitten, plus airline and transport fees. A common twist is the scammer notifies you the animal is at the airport, but additional fees are needed from you before the animal will be delivered. Check with your local animal rescues or shelters for particular breeds or sizes, or only deal with a seller in person where you can visit and meet the parents of the puppy or kitten, and inspect the premises.

Online Pop-up Advertisements: While on your computer or mobile device, you may see pop-up ads claiming you’ve won a gift card or a valuable prize. Never click on these links, as they may contain a virus or make your device susceptible to being hacked.

Online Marketplace Deals: Be suspicious of sellers promising deals on peer-to-peer apps and online marketplaces, offering the latest popular toys and games that are difficult to find.

AG Shapiro is reminding Pennsylvanians that there are preventative efforts they can make to protect themselves from online retail scams:

• Set up email or text alerts with your credit card company or bank, so you’ll be alerted quickly to all purchases, including fraudulent purchases.

• Install the latest security updates and run virus scans regularly on your computer or mobile device.

• Never use your home’s smart device, such as Alexa, Siri, or Google Home, to find a customer support number for any company, and have the system dial it for you. Go directly to the company’s website, call the number on the back of your credit or debit card, or the number on your billing statement.

• Never pay with a prepaid gift card, CashApp, or Venmo or wire someone money when you’re trying to buy a gift online. Use your credit card, not a debit card, for better protection.

Anyone who believes they may have been scammed should file a police report and should file a complaint with the Pennsylvania Office of Attorney General by visiting — https://www.attorneygeneral.gov/submit-a-complaint/.

Temporary change to SNAP

benefit issuance schedule

Department of Human Services (DHS) Secretary Teresa Miller this week announced that DHS is altering payment schedules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for the month of December to allow all benefits to be issued without risk of delay in case of a federal government shutdown.

SNAP is a federally funded program and the federal government is currently funded through Dec. 11, 2020.

“SNAP is a critical resource for the nearly 1.9 million Pennsylvanians who use it to purchase fresh food and groceries for themselves and their families,” Miller said. “Particularly as Pennsylvania and our nation are in the midst of a growing public health crisis, we cannot risk a lapse in benefits that help meet this most basic, essential need. Some SNAP recipients may receive their monthly benefit and emergency allotments earlier than usual, but we need Pennsylvanians to know that this is not in error or an additional payment. This is their normal December payment, and there will be no additional payment.”

SNAP benefits are typically issued during the first 10 business days of the month and emergency allotments, which are authorized by the Families First Coronavirus Response Act and currently go to about 60 percent of SNAP households, in the second 10 business days after this issuance. Because SNAP is entirely federally funded, a delay in authorizing new funding could disrupt benefit issuance.

To avoid any potential disruption, recipients may receive their benefits earlier than anticipated and in one payment as opposed to two issuances. All December SNAP benefits will be available on EBT cards by December 11, 2020.

SNAP helps nearly 1.9 million Pennsylvanians purchase fresh food and groceries, helping families with limited or strained resources be able to keep food on the table while meeting other needs. Inadequate food and chronic nutrient deficiencies have profound effects on a person’s life and health, including increased risks for chronic diseases, higher chances of hospitalization, poorer overall health, and increased health care costs.

As the nation faces the COVID-19 pandemic, access to essential needs like food is more important than ever to help keep vulnerable populations healthy and mitigate co-occurring health risks.

Applications for SNAP and other public assistance programs can be submitted online at www.compass.state.pa.us.

For more information about food assistance resources for people around Pennsylvania impacted by COVID-19 and the accompanying economic insecurity, visit the Department of Agriculture’s food security guide.

For more information on public assistance programs, visit www.dhs.pa.gov.

Wolf urges Congress to extend

programs for unemployed workers

With hundreds of thousands of workers in Pennsylvania relying on several federal unemployment programs that are set to expire at the end of the month, Gov. Tom Wolf sent a letter this week to the state’s Congressional delegation urging the federal government to continue the programs through 2021.

“The number of COVID-19 cases is surging now and expected to continue increasing in the weeks to come, endangering both the public and economy,” Wolf said. “I strongly urge you, our congressional delegation, to consider how important the CARES Act has been to our nation and our state in helping businesses and workers and in preventing further contraction of the economy, and to act swiftly to extend these programs.”

The governor’s letter outlines four recommended actions:

Extend Pandemic Unemployment Assistance (PUA) through 2021: PUA provides unemployment benefits to workers who are self-employed, seeking part-time employment, lack sufficient work history, or otherwise do not qualify for regular Unemployment Compensation (UC) or Extended Benefits (EB). PUA has provided more than $6.5 billion to Pennsylvania households and the economy.

Extend Pandemic Emergency Unemployment Compensation (PEUC) through 2021: PEUC provides up to 13 weeks of additional unemployment assistance to those who exhausted their benefits. PEUC has added $846.1 million to households in Pennsylvania.

Renew Federal Pandemic Unemployment Compensation (FPUC): FPUC, which expired on July 31, 2020, provided $16.1 billion to eligible individuals through an additional $600 per week on top of their weekly UC benefit.

Extend No-interest Loans to the UC Trust Fund Through 2021: Many states are borrowing from the federal government to pay the increased need for UC benefits. Pennsylvania has borrowed $618 million in loans that will begin accruing interest on Jan. 1, 2021 if the no-interest loan program expires.

Since March, the Department of Labor & Industry has paid more than $31.6 billion in total unemployment benefits.

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