In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission returned more than $43 million to nearly 194,000 New Jersey residents victimized by various financial scams.

John Mangini, vice president of marketing and communications for the New Jersey Bankers Association, said a good chunk of that refund money every year comes from increased phishing attempts during the holiday season, when spending, donating, and credit card usage are on the rise.

And especially important to remember during the still ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Mangini said, is that tough times can often bring out the best in people, but can also showcase them at their worst.

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So the best things for holiday shoppers to do are to be aware, and educate themselves as to the different types of scams out there.

For example, Mangini said if a person gets an email from their bank saying they've won a prize, but asking for an odd form of payment or the purchase of a gift card to claim it, that's a red flag.

And whether someone falls victim to a scam or quickly gets wise to it, the advice is the same: Report it right away.

"If something doesn't seem right, resist. Call the organization. So in other words, if you get a call or if you get an email that looks suspicious, don't respond. Contact the organization," Mangini said. "Most banks will have fraud protection or something along those lines on their websites."

Plus, Mangini said, the institution that a scammer is posing as will want to know they've been used as bait, so they can upgrade their security.

Keeping security software up to date is essential for the consumer as well, as is immediately changing passwords if an account is compromised.

"There's also, which is another good resource for people to utilize to get information on how to proceed if, again, God forbid, you were a victim of a phishing scam," Mangini said.

WHAT IS PHISHING? The Federal Trade Commission defines it as when "scammers use email or text messages to trick you into giving them your personal information." The FBI reported in 2019 that Americans lost $57 million to phishing scams in just one year.

Some anti-scamming initiatives do exist specifically to protect elderly residents, such as a senior Crime Stoppers program.

Mangini suggests that anyone who has elders in their family make sure that they know about these scams inside and out.

"Certainly communicate to them, this time of year, make sure that they're aware of some of these things, because unfortunately they tend to be the targets more so than most," he said.

Patrick Lavery is New Jersey 101.5's afternoon news anchor. Follow him on Twitter @plavery1015 or email

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