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Officials warn shoppers to watch for holiday frauds

LAWRENCEVILLE -- The holidays may be the time for sharing, but for a few Grinches, it can also be the time for taking.

That's why the U.S. Secret Service is making it its business to spread the word about those looking to steal our holiday cheer. And money.

This is the time of the year, agents say, that just about everyone -- from cashiers to consumers -- is a potential target for fraud.

"Technology has forever changed the way we do business, making everyday financial transactions a prime target for fraud," said Atlanta Field Office Special Agent in Charge Jeffrey Gilbert. "The Secret Service, in conjunction with its many law enforcement partners, continues to successfully combat these crimes by adapting our investigative methodologies and educating the public."

Some things to be aware of, the agency says:

* Customers should visually inspect their money before walking away from store registers or bank tellers to ensure it is not counterfeit;

* Retailers and consumers should be mindful of thieves trying to use stolen credit cards and store gift cards. Retailers should compare credit card signatures with those on a photo ID while consumers should keep a close eye on bank statements; and

* Remember that no credit card company or bank will contact you to verify your information: Do not provide personal information over the phone or Internet.

The Gwinnett County Police Department offered the following safety tips:

* When using an ATM, make sure no one is watching you enter your PIN. Also, be aware of potential "skimming" hardware attached to the machine;

* If your purse or wallet is stolen, notify your bank and credit card companies as soon as possible; and

* When discarding credit card statements, make sure to shred them completely.

For more information on how to protect your identity or to obtain victim assistance, log on to www.ftc.gov.

If you suspect you have a counterfeit bill or are a victim of financial fraud, call Gwinnett County police at 770-513-5000 and/or the U.S. Secret Service's Atlanta Field Office at 404-331-6111.