Whether it’s fake checks, bogus products and services or identity theft, it seems there’s always someone out there trying to make suckers out of us. Scams can cost consumers hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
It’s not easy to spot a scam, even for savvy consumers. The editors of Consumer Reports Money Adviser point out some common schemes and the precautions you can take:
Say you find a really great deal on a digital camera at an online retailer. But shortly after placing your order, you get a phone call from a company representative trying to sell you extra lenses, a fancy case, and other pricey add-ons. You refuse the high-pressure sales pitch, and later you’re notified that the camera is no longer in stock. Or it never arrives.
What to do. Check out sellers you’re unfamiliar with before buying anything from them. To start, find out whether a company has a report and rating with the Better Business Bureau (BBB). If you’re victimized after paying with cash or by check, you could be out of luck. So use a credit card, especially when buying online or over the phone.
If the order doesn’t arrive, you can challenge the purchase under federal credit-card rules. Debit-card purchases offer less protection, although some banks voluntarily provide additional safeguards.
Phishing, spoofing, and identity theft
Scammers use e-mail messages, phone calls, and other ways to trick people into revealing their passwords, credit-card and Social Security numbers, and other personal information they can use to steal identities, open credit lines, and the like.
What to do. Don’t respond to e-mail messages or phone calls asking for your passwords or other personal information, no matter how urgent the appeal. Instead, contact your bank or other party to see if it made the request. Don’t click on hyperlinks you receive in e-mail messages, and carefully type Web addresses into your browser to avoid typos.
Scammers sometimes set up bogus sites using common misspellings of legitimate web addresses, a practice known as “typosquatting.” Keep your computer’s antivirus and antiphishing software up-to-date.
It could come as e-mail or a phone call urging you to help some cause that might be in the news or tugs at your heartstrings. Some charities are outright frauds; others do little, if anything, to help a cause.
What to do. Don’t respond immediately to a solicitation. Instead, check out the group with the major charity watchdogs: the American Institute of Philanthropy; the BBB’s Wise Giving Alliance; and the Charity Navigator. And make sure you’re dealing with the right group. Many con artists use names similar to legitimate charities.
For local groups that don’t appear on watchdog reports, ask the charity for further information, or donate through a local fundraising federation, such as the United Way, that screens groups.
Who doesn’t want to win a big prize? But if you respond to mail declaring that you’re a finalist, or even a winner, the only ones who’ll be stuffing their pockets will be the scammers who sent it to you. Many of these mailings or prize-related phone calls imply that buying something increases your chances of winning.
In another variation, you might be told that you have to mail an advance payment to cover taxes, shipping and handling, or other incidental costs of processing or delivering your fabulous prize. Of course, you’ll get nothing in return.
What to do. By law, buying services or merchandise can’t increase your odds of winning a sweepstakes. Just saying no if you’re asked to respond to a prize or sweepstakes promotion will increase your odds -- of not getting ripped off.
This one involves companies promising to get you a loan or credit card even if you have bad credit. But after paying the required fee, you might not hear from the company again, or you might be offered a debit or stored-value card.
Such offers appear in ads or on Websites run by companies that engage in this type of “service.” It’s illegal for a company doing business by phone to promise a loan and require a fee before it’s delivered.
What to do. Avoid companies that promise to get you a loan but don’t seem interested in your credit history, the FTC warns. And never pay an advance fee for a loan, even if it’s for “insurance,” “processing,” or “paperwork.”