Beware of Holiday Scams

Beware of Holiday Scams

It’s the Most Wonderful Time of the Year… for Criminals, Thieves and Scammers

Red and green Christmas tree ornaments in a clear bowl

Photo source: UF/IFAS Northwest District

This holiday season scammers and identity thieves are hoping to take advantage of shoppers who may be too preoccupied with travel, gift-buying, and festivities to notice. Therefore, during the holidays, it is even more important to remain vigilant while shopping in stores or online.

More people are turning to online shopping for their holiday gifts. The National Retail Federation forecasts consumers to spend about $721 billion this holiday season.  However, this increase in online spending comes with a greater risk for thieves to steal your money or your identity.

Here are some common holiday scams and how to protect yourself from becoming a victim:

Deals That Are Too Good to Be True –while shopping online keep the old adage in mind, “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is”. During the holidays, shoppers are looking for huge deals, and scammers know it. These thieves often set up websites that appear to be legitimate, just to steal your personal information and/or to download a virus onto your computer.

It is important to make sure any site in which you shop contains an HTTPS security designation. Another simple way to know if the website is authentic is to look for the padlock symbol that appears in the address bar of the retailer. Here is an example of an Amazon online address bar.

Holiday Phishing Scams – Around the holidays, beware of emails pretending to be sent from familiar companies like FedEx or UPS. These emails claim to provide links for package tracking information. These links, once clicked on, will either steal your personal information or download a virus onto your computer. Remember, if you receive an email from someone you don’t know or weren’t expecting an email from, you should never click on links. Also, make sure you are using current antivirus software on your computer.

Identity Theft and ATM Skimmers

In Store Shopping:
    • Being vigilant is key to protecting yourself during the holiday season. Thieves target shoppers who are either struggling with packages and bags or those who are unaware of their surroundings. Thieves see this as an opportunity to steal your wallet or credit card numbers.
    • When using an ATM or other key pads, make sure to check for skimming devices that thieves install on ATMs and other card readers. These skimmers are placed over the existing key pad in order to access your account. It is also advised to cover the keypad when entering your pin number while purchasing items or getting money from an ATM
    • After each purchase, take time to put your credit card back into your wallet. Also, it may be worthwhile to purchase an RFID-blocking wallet. These wallets are designed to shield your credit card information from RFID readers and skimmers..
 Online Shopping:
  • When shopping online, experts advise consumers to use credit cards instead of debit cards. In case of fraud, both payments types can be disputed, however debit card payments are automatically deducted from your bank account. Therefore, it may take longer to get your money back.

Gift Cards– Gift cards are a great idea for people on our shopping list. However, a record number of retail stores are closing their doors, so you should consider the retailer’s financial situation before buying a gift card. If the retailer closes or declares bankruptcy, the recipient may not be able to use the gift card.

Package Delivery Theft- Having packages delivered to our homes makes us a target for thieves who case neighborhoods and even follow delivery trucks looking for packages sitting on porches. There are ways to prevent this from happening to you. You can have your packages delivered to their office, a local pick-up area, like a UPS Store or try to schedule delivery times when someone will be home, if possible. Online shoppers can also set up tracking notifications, to know when an item is delivered.

Charitable Giving Tips – Give to charities wisely. At this time of year, we all want to give to charities that pull on our heart strings. But beware of giving money to charities that are fake or irresponsible. Do your research to make sure to support the many legitimate and deserving charities that can use our help during the holidays.

The 2018 Consumer Protection Guide – This guide provides more information about protecting yourself as a consumer, including online identity theft, charity scams, item recalls and more.

The holiday season brings out the best and worst in people. Therefore, you should be vigilant because the holidays are a lucrative time of year for thieves and scammers who are trying their hardest to get into your bank account.

For more tips on how to keep your identity safe and avoid holiday scams, contact Laurie Osgood, UF/IFAS Extension, Gadsden County at  or call (850) 875-7255.


Don’t Let A Tick Ruin Your Summer!

Don’t Let A Tick Ruin Your Summer!

Check for ticks after being outside.
Photo source:

Does the mere thought of ticks make you feel itchy all over? Ticks are not a fun thing to talk about, but we can’t ignore them. Ticks can pose a real threat to your outdoor summer fun. Here in the Florida Panhandle, you can find ticks all year-long. But ticks are the most active in warm weather, from April through September.

There are many varieties of ticks in the world, but only a few spread disease to people. Of the ticks that can be found in North Florida, the black-legged tick, also known as the deer tick, is the most dangerous because it is the primary vector of Lyme disease in humans. Learn more about the black-legged tick.

Symptoms of a Tick Bite

According to the UF/IFAS Extension’s Department of Entomology and Nematology guidebook, Pests In and Around the Southern Home, the most common symptoms associated with tick bites are rash, fever, chills, aches, and pains. If you have been bitten by a tick that carries Lyme disease, a bullseye-shaped rash may appear within 3-30 days. This circular rash usually appears before you experience fever or any other symptoms.

Although the rash tends to show up in most Lyme disease cases, it doesn’t always develop at the spot where you were bitten. If you’ve been bitten by a tick and are suffering from any of these symptoms, you should contact your doctor ASAP. They will evaluate the tick bite and decide the best treatment option for you. However, in most cases, when the tick is removed, these symptoms should subside within 24 hours.  For more information, visit Ticks & Disease in Florida.

Checking Yourself and Your Family for Ticks

Ticks can be very small and hard to see. It is important to routinely check for ticks on all members of your family, including your pets. Examine your clothes, gear, and pets thoroughly after spending time outside. Experts advise us to wear light-colored clothing and closed-toe shoes when outside. Make sure to check your legs and ankles first, then move up your body. It’s important to remember that ticks are especially fond of warm areas on the body, so don’t forget to check all head and body hair, under your arms, the inside and outside of your ears and inside your belly button. Use a hand-held mirror for the best view of these spots on your body.

What is the Safest Way to Remove a Tick?

If you find a tick attached to your skin, don’t panic! It is important to remove the tick as soon as you spot it. The best way to remove the whole tick is with a pair of tweezers. Avoid twisting or yanking on the tick too quickly; this may cause some of the tick to remain attached to your skin. After removing the tick, thoroughly clean the site with soap, water, and rubbing alcohol.

Some believe the best way to remove a tick is by coating it with nail polish or petroleum jelly, causing the tick to detach itself from the skin. However, tweezers remain the quickest and safest way to remove the entire tick that is attached to the skin.

Preventing Ticks in Your Yard and On Your Pets

Check pets regularly for ticks.
Photo source: Pam Nobles

Our own backyard can be high-risk tick zones. We can help rid our yards of ticks by removing old trash and excess leaves, clearing tall grass, and mowing the lawn frequently. This is important especially around walkways, gardens, and the areas used for family activity.

Once you have protected your yard from ticks, don’t forget about your family pet. Adult ticks can attach themselves to your pet, who, unknowingly, bring these pests into your home. Once inside, they can easily spread disease to you or your family. You can defend your pets from these nuisances by talking to your veterinarian about the tick protective products they recommend for your pet.

To learn more about ticks and tick bites, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) website for a comprehensive guide to all tickborne diseases in the United States.  



March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month

According to the American Cancer Society, colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in the United States and the second leading cause of death from cancer. Colorectal cancer is cancer that occurs in the colon or rectum. Colorectal cancer affects all racial and ethnic groups and is most often found in people ages 50 and older.


Cancer Screening Saves Lives!

The best way to prevent colorectal cancer is to get screened regularly starting at age 50. Colorectal cancer doesn’t always cause symptoms, initially – which makes it much more important to get screened regularly. Make sure to talk to your doctor about when you should begin cancer screenings, how often, and which test is right for you. 



What Can You Do To Reduce These Risks?

  • Get regular screening starting at age 50
  • Encourage your family members and friends over age 50 to get screened.
  • Don’t smoke
  • Be physically active
  • Eat a diet rich in fruits, vegetables and fiber, while avoiding high fat foods


The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provides fact sheets with more information about colorectal and other cancers. To learn more, visit

To learn more about colorectal cancer education and prevention efforts in your community, visit the Florida Department of Health at or contact them at (850) 245-4330.

For more information about UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Program with the Gadsden County Extension, please contact Laurie Osgood at (850) 875-7255.


Cleaning Your Home After an Illness Like the Flu

Cleaning Your Home After an Illness Like the Flu

Clean light switches to reduce the spread of illnesses. Photo credit: NW Extension District

Seasonal influenza (flu) viruses are most common during the fall and winter, with peak activity occurring between December and February.  According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. It can cause mild to severe illness. Serious outcomes of flu infection can result in hospitalization or death. Some people, including senior adults, young children, and persons with certain health conditions, are at high risk for serious flu complications.

When someone in your family has had a cold or the flu, it is important to clean and sanitize your house properly to avoid any recurrences or further spreading. Follow these tips:

  • Before you get started, try opening the windows for some fresh air, or raise your blinds or curtains to let in the natural light.
  • Clean the areas first, then disinfect.
  • Wash your hands often:  before, during, and after cleaning.

The bathroom will need a good cleaning and disinfection after an illness.

  • Disinfect with a mixture of bleach and water.  Use one scant teaspoon of chlorine bleach to one quart of water.
  • Clean toilet lever, shower faucets, cabinet knobs, light switches, and doorknobs.
  • Replace or clean toothbrushes.
  • Disinfect all things that people touch:  refrigerator door handles; coffee pot; electric can opener; microwave oven; door, stove, and cabinet knobs; faucets; light switches.  Do NOT use chlorine bleach with added fragrance, as it is not food-safe.
  • Run all utensils through the dishwasher after each use.
  • For more information on sanitizing the kitchen, see Cleaning and Sanitizing the Kitchen: Using Inexpensive Household Food-Safe Products.
  • Clean remotes, phones, computer keypads, gaming systems, door knobs, and light switches.
  • Sanitize all items with proper cleaning products.
  • Change pillow cases daily and wash soiled bed linens right away with proper laundry detergent.
  • Wash everything in your washer on the hottest temperature the fabric allows, but be sure not to overload your washer.
  • Disinfect all items on the night stand. Don’t forget light switches, doorknobs and drawer pulls, and remote controls, if used.
  • Some stuffed animals can be cleaned in the washer with the other bedding.
  • For hard-surfaced toys, make sure to clean with proper cleaning solutions for their surface and rinse well.
  • Some small toys can be safely cleaned in a mesh laundry bag in the top rack of the dishwasher.


  • Rubber gloves
  • A different sponge for each room you are cleaning or paper towels
  • Proper cleaning products:  Please be sure to follow all manufacturer’s instructions on all cleaning products.

According to the CDC, the flu virus can live on surfaces for 48 hours—potentially infecting anyone who comes in contact with the germs. Disinfecting the house is one of the best ways to prevent anyone else from contracting the illness.

For more information on sterilizing items in your home, visit the CDC Website,


Cold, Allergy, or the Flu?

What Are the Differences of the Symptoms of a Cold, The Flu And Allergies?

Laurie Osgood, Family and Consumer Sciences Agent, UF/IFAS Extension, Gadsden County, FL

You’re coming down with something…you have a stuffy nose, you’re coughing and you have a sore throat. Do you have a cold, the flu or seasonal allergies? Because the symptoms can be similar, it is hard to know what you are suffering from. Identifying the differences between symptoms can help you choose the best treatment options. However, you will need to visit your health care provider to know for sure.

The National Institutes of Health says that the flu and the common cold are caused by different viruses. Colds, the flu and allergies can affect your respiratory system, making it hard to breath. However each condition has key symptoms that set them apart. Flu symptoms can be more severe than cold symptoms and can lead to additional complications. Allergy symptoms can be similar, however they are caused by your body’s immune system reacting to a trigger, or allergen such as pollen, or pet dander.

The National Institutes of Health (NIH) has developed a chart to compare the symptoms of the cold, the flu and airborne allergies. To learn more about these symptoms, visit NIH @ .


Fever Rare Severe and usually high (100˚- 102˚ F) Never
Headache Uncommon Common Uncommon
General Aches, Pains Slight Usual, sometimes severe Never
Fatigue, Weakness Sometimes Usual, up to 3 weeks Sometimes
Extreme Exhaustion Never Usually at onset of illness Never
Itchy, Watery Eyes Unusual Unusual Common
Stuffy, Runny Nose Common Sometimes Common
Sneezing Usual Sometimes Usual
Sore Throat Common Sometimes Sometimes
Cough Mild to moderate Common, can be severe Sometimes
Chest Discomfort Mild to moderate Common Rare, except for those with allergic asthma
Duration Can last up to two weeks Usually last 1-2 weeks Can last as long as allergens are present
Treatment Get plenty of rest

Stay hydrated

Contact your doctor if symptoms persist

Get plenty of rest

Stay hydrated

See your doctor for flu treatment options

Avoid allergens, such as pollen, mold, pet dander, etc.

See your doctor to determine cause of allergic reactions

Complications Sinus infection middle ear infection, asthma Bronchitis, pneumonia; can be life-threatening Sinus infection, middle ear infection, asthma

The best way to prevent getting sick this season is to wash your hands often, avoid close contact with people who are sick, and if you are sick, stay home. There can be severe complications associated with the flu, so get your flu shot each year and contact your doctor if you suspect that you or a loved one has the flu.

To learn more about colds, the flu or allergies, visit the National Institutes of Health at, or the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) at

For more information about UF/IFAS Family and Consumer Sciences Program with the Gadsden County Extension, please contact Laurie Osgood at (850) 875-7255.