Citibank is warning catalogue shoppers that they may be the targets of the latest credit card scam.

The nation's No. 1 bank card issuer says consumers may be offered special deals by phone. If they then give their credit card account numbers, the numbers might be used for fraudulent purchases.

The hazard gets worse during the holiday season. One-third of an average year's credit card transactions take place during the fourth quarter, according to MasterCard International.

Fraud goes up as well, industry experts say. In conjunction with the U.S. Secret Service and Postal Inspection Services, Citibank conducts free consumer awareness seminars nationwide called Facing Financial Fraud.

Last year, over 100 million Americans shopped by catalogue during the Christmas season, a 77% increase over a decade, said Citibank.

More than 13.5 billion catalogues were mailed in 1992, indicating how consumers have responded to a more convenient method of retail shopping.

"I think people are using telemarketing and catalogue purchasing more readily now because of the time it saves," said James Gaughran of the Secret Service.

Criminals have found a way to capitalize on consumers' busy schedules during this festive time by finding them at home.

A caller, posing as a customer service representative from a popular cataloguer, might offer special products for preferred customers, take an order, and request a credit card number over the phone.

"Every year, telemarketing scams catch weary consumers off guard, and during the holiday season, consumers are particularly susceptible," said Charlie Petersen, vice president in the Citibank's MasterCard and Visa antifraud division. "Being alert is good advice for this time of year - and all year."

The fraud seminars, conducted by Mr. Petersen and Mr. Gaughran, are designed to educate consumers to the latest in credit card scams. Citibank, which has 30 million cardholders, sees it as good business. The seminars have reached about 10,000 consumers nationwide in the past two years.

Seattle and Tacoma will host the next seminars, which are co-sponsored by the Better Business Bureau of Western Washington, in late November.

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