April 8, 2012

 No one wants to play the “patsy”.  It feels terrible when you realize you’ve been duped or taken advantage of.  But unfortunately, there are those who make a livelihood preying on people, abusing their trust and absconding with the money.

Conventional wisdom paints a portrait of the elderly as the easy mark but, truth be told, all of us are potential victims of scams and fraud.  Here are some common scams to avoid and ways to protect your money and your pride.

According to the National Consumer League, the top ten scams of 2011 were: 

          1.  Fake check scams.  In this instance, you may be paid with phony checks for work performed or for items you may have sold.  Another fake check scam is an offer to split a windfall and wire money back to the malefactor. 

          2.  Internet sales and/or auction scams.  In this scam, goods purchased may be either misrepresented or not delivered.  This is the favorite scam of the con artist, followed by telephone scams.

          3.  Sweepstakes or free gifts/prize offers.  Remember, there is no free lunch.  No one is giving away money for free. 

          4.  Phishing or Spoofing.  Again, this involves the internet.  You may receive a legitimate-looking e-mail requesting personal information. 

          5.  Advance fee loans and credit arrangers.  This is a scam designed to prey on those in financial difficulties with promises of assistance, for a fee. 

          6.  Friendship/sweetheart online swindles.  In this day of online dating, it’s easy for someone to pretend they’re something they’re not without getting caught.   

          7.  The ubiquitous Nigerian money offer/wire transfer.  Anyone with an e-mail account has probably received this scam letter, origination in Nigeria, promising huge sums of money in exchange for your bank account information.

         8.  The promise of employment and job counseling.  This scam is ripped right from the headlines, targeting those 14 million people searching for employment and desperate for a chance to work, especially if they can work from home. 

          9.  Business opportunities and franchises.  Again, a function of the economy and requires you to shell out your hard-earned money or savings.

           10.  Scholarships and grants.  These tie in with number 8 and 9 on this list.  Desperation can cloud your judgment.  

The Federal Reserve Bank offers some general precautions against all frauds and scams: 

            1.  The greater the potential return, the greater the risk. 

            2.  If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. 

            3.  Take time to do careful research.

            4.  If the offer is legitimate it will always be there tomorrow. 

            5.  Investments seldom exist without some risk involved. 

            6.  Never invest what you cannot afford to lose. 

            7.  Never let your emotions interfere with your business affairs. 

            8.  Always get information, bids and proposals in writing before paying any money. 

            9.  Do not send cash by messenger or mail. 

          10.  Do not make final payment until you are satisfied with the project you contracted. 

If you feel you’ve been victimized, speak up. Don’t blame yourself.  Report the evil-doers so they can’t dupe someone else.  If you fear your identity has been stolen, contact the police immediately.  Then contact your bank, credit card issuers and the three major national credit reporting agencies:  Equifax, Experian and Transunion.  Obtain new identity documents and make sure the old ones have been canceled.

Contact the FBI, the Justice Department, the Federal Trade Commission and even Social Security if you feel your identity has been compromised.  The Better Business Bureau and AARP have divisions devoted solely to ferreting out fraud.  They’ve seen just about everything and can offer you assistance.,

The Dodd-Frank Wall Street Reform and Consumer Protection Act of 2010 (Dodd-Frank Act) established the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB).  The central mission of the CFPB is to make markets for consumer financial products and services work for Americans — whether they are applying for a mortgage, choosing among credit cards, or using any number of other consumer financial products. 

The Maryland Attorney General’s office has an active consumer protection division.  This division “provides mediation services to consumers to help resolve complaints against businesses and health insurance carriers. The Division can also provide information about complaints that have been filed against businesses, tell you if your new home builder or health club is properly registered and provide publications to help you make good decisions in the marketplace.” 

And lastly, the Maryland Consumer Rights Coalition is a nonprofit organization that advances and protects fairness and justice for Maryland consumers through research, education and advocacy. 

Don’t be a victim.  Fight back.  Join me April 11th for “Stealing Trust” on Maryland Public Television. Check your local listings.

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