Preventing Frauds, Scams & Con Games
It's not always easy to
spot con artists. They're smart, extremely persuasive, and aggressive.
They invade your home by telephone and mail, advertise in well-known
newspapers and magazines, and come to your door. Most people think
they're too smart to fall for a scam. But con artists rob all kinds of
people - from investment counselors and doctors to teenagers and elderly
widows - of billions of dollars every year. Just remember... if it
sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
You Can Protect Yourself:
Never give a caller
your credit card, phone card, Social Security, or bank account number
over the phone. It's illegal for telemarketers to ask for these
numbers to verify a prize or gift.
Beware of 900
numbers. People who call 900 numbers to request instant credit often
end up with a booklet on how to establish credit or a list of banks
offering low-interest credit cards. Such calls can end up costing $50
or more, but consumers rarely end up obtaining credit.
Listen carefully to
the name of a charity requesting money. Fraudulent charities often use
names that sound like a reputable, well-known organization such as the
American Cancer Association (instead of the American Cancer Society).
Ask for a financial
report before you donate; a reputable charity will always send you
you invest. Never make an investment with a stranger over the phone.
Beware of promises that include the terms "get rich quick," or "a once
in a lifetime opportunity."
Be A Wise Consumer
Don't buy health products or
treatments that include: a promise for a quick and dramatic cure,
testimonials, imprecise and nonmedical language, appeals to emotion
instead of reason, or a single product that cures many ills. Quackery
can delay an ill person from getting timely treatment.
Look closely at offers that come in
the mail. Con artists often use official-looking forms and bold
graphics to lure victims. If you receive items in the mail that you
didn't order, you are under no obligation to pay for them - throw them
out, return them, or keep them.
Be suspicious of ads that promise
quick cash working from your home. After you've paid for the supplies
or a how-to book to get started, you often find there's no market for
the product and there's no way to get your money back.
Beware of cheap home repair work
that would otherwise be expensive, regardless of the reason given. The
con artist may just do part of the work, use shoddy materials and
untrained workers, or simply take your deposit and never return.
Use common sense in dealing with
auto repairs. One mechanic convinced a woman that she needed to have
the winter air in tires replaced with summer air! Get a written
estimate, read it carefully, and never give the repair shop a blank
check to "fix everything."
Some Classic Cons
Although con artists come up
with new scams as times change, some classic scams never go out of
The Bank Examiner
Someone posing as a bank official or
government agent asks for your help (in person or via the telephone)
to catch a dishonest teller. You are to withdraw money from your
account and turn it over to him or her so the serial numbers can be
checked or the money marked. You do, and never see your money again.
The Pigeon Drop
A couple of strangers tell you
they've found a large sum of money or other valuables. They say
they'll split their good fortune with you if everyone involved will
put up some "good faith" money. You turn over your cash, and you never
see your money or the strangers again.
The Pyramid Scheme
Someone offers you a chance to
invest in a up-and-coming company with a guaranteed high return. The
idea is that you invest and ask others to do the same. You get a share
of each investment you recruit. They recruit others, and so on. When
the pyramid collapses (either the pool of new investors dries up or
the swindler is caught), everyone loses - except the person at the
Protect Yourself From
Your best protection is to just
hang up the phone. If you think that is rude, tell these callers
politely that you are not interested, don't want to waste their time,
and please don't call back - and then hang up. If you find yourself
caught up in a sales pitch, remember the federal government's
Telemarketing Sales Rule.
You have to be told the name of the
company, the fact that it is a sales call, and what's being sold. If a
prize is being offered, you have to be told immediately that there is
no purchase necessary to win.
If the caller says you've won a
prize, you cannot be asked to pay anything for it. You can't even be
required to pay shipping charges. If it is a sweepstakes, the caller
must tell you how to enter without making a purchase.
You cannot be asked to pay in
advance for services such as cleansing your credit record, finding you
a loan, acquiring a prize they say you've won. You pay for services
only if they're actually delivered.
You shouldn't be called before 8
a.m. or after 9 p.m. If you tell telemarketers not to call again, they
can't. If they do, they have broken the law.
If you're guaranteed a refund, the
caller has to tell you all the limitations.
And remember, don't give telemarketers
your credit card number, your bank account number, Social Security
number - or authorize bank drafts - ever.
If Someone Rips You Off. . .
Report con games to the police, your
city or state consumer protection office, district attorney's office,
or a consumer advocacy group.
If you suspect fraud, call the
National Fraud Information Center at 800-876-7060, 9:00 a.m. to 5:30
p.m. EST. To find out more, visit
Don't feel foolish. Reporting is
vital. Very few frauds are reported, which leaves the con artists free
to rob other people of their money - and their trust.