Consumer Scams: How to Avoid Becoming a Victim

Filed under Consumer

(ARA) – Unfortunately, tough times can bring out the worst in some people. That’s especially true of scam artists who prey on those who are down on their luck or who can be easily intimidated.

Scam artists are anything but artists. They’re criminals who use a variety of tools, including the U.S. mail, telemarketing and the Internet to part you from your hard-earned money. Believe it or not, some are so good at what they “sell,” they’ve persuaded people to mortgage or refinance their homes in order to participate in phony sweepstakes, pyramid schemes, investment offers and other scams. In fact, there’s even a breed of scam artists who specialize in “helping” people recover money they’ve lost to other scammers.

Scams and fraudulent activity take on many shapes and forms. Some of the most common scams involve offers of working from home, free travel or gifts, sweepstakes and contests, avoiding a foreclosure, getting out of debt, investing in real estate and chain letters, just to name a few. Unfortunately, common myth holds that only low-income, unsophisticated, blue-collar workers and the elderly are victims of scams. Not true. Highly educated and wealthy individuals have been scammed for millions from seemingly trustworthy business executives.

Federal and state laws prohibit unfair or deceptive trade acts or practices, according to, the world’s leading online source for legal information. If you think you’ve been cheated, you should immediately contact local law enforcement authorities, the city or county prosecutor, or the state Attorney General’s office. Your state may also offer a consumer protection agency that can provide advice. The more agencies you notify, the more likely someone will take notice of your complaint and act on it.

In addition to contacting local government authorities, recommends contacting the National Fraud Information Center (, which is maintained by the National Consumers League. The NFIC provides assistance in filing a complaint with appropriate federal agencies and offers recorded information on current or popular scams and frauds, as well as tips on how to avoid becoming the victim of one. Victims of identity theft should contact a special hotline created by the Federal Trade Commission at (877) ID-THEFT (877-438-4338).

If law enforcement agencies take legal action, they will try to recover your money, but it’s not always possible. If you paid with a credit card or the money was debited from your bank account, you may be able to dispute the charges or debit. Contact your credit card issuer or bank immediately. If the charge was on your telephone bill, contact the company that sent you the bill to find out how you can dispute the charge.

Also consider contacting an action line provided by local newspapers, radio stations, or TV stations. In larger metropolitan areas, some media organizations enlist volunteers who will pursue consumer complaints.

Another way to attempt to get your money back is to bring a lawsuit against the scammer. However, this may not be feasible unless the seller is a local resident and all but impossible if you’re the victim of an international identity theft scam, which have become all too common these days. If you plan to sue, first send a demand letter explaining the problem and asking for your money back. Many states require such a letter before you sue.

The best weapon in the war on scams is to avoid becoming a victim in the first place. Here are 10 tips from to help you avoid becoming the victim of a scam:

1. Use common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Or, if it looks like a scam and smells like a scam, it probably is a scam.

2. Screen your phone calls. If you see phone calls coming from a number you do not recognize, or you see “anonymous” or “unknown caller” come up on your telephone, do not answer and allow the call to go to voicemail. Like telemarketers, scammers rarely leave messages. Better yet, sign up for the national “Do Not Call” list. It’s easy: call (888) 382-1222.

3. Beware of any Web sites, mailings, etc., which seek personal information. Avoid giving out your credit card, checking account or social security number.

4. Walk away from salespersons that use high-pressure sales tactics and insist on an immediate decision. Never deal with any salesperson who attempts to scare you into purchasing something.

5. Avoid being placed on “sucker” lists. Avoid filling out contest entry forms at fairs and malls or on the Internet. Especially avoid contests where you need to go to another location to see a sales presentation to “earn” your prize. Avoid solicitations in which you have already been specially selected or awarded a prize, but you haven’t entered a contest.

6. Know with whom you’re dealing. If it’s an unfamiliar company or charity, check it out with your state or local consumer protection agency and the Better Business Bureau.

7. The common thread that runs through most telemarketing, mail and Internet scams is the demand for payment upfront. Never consent to a request for a direct bank deposit or a certified check  or offers to send a courier to your home to pick up your check.

8. Avoid pyramid schemes that often take the form of chain letters, gifting clubs, or multi-level or network marketing. Pyramid schemes depend on people recruiting other people to join the scheme, with the hope that one day, you will reach the top of the pyramid. That rarely happens because eventually the scheme runs out of people, and then the people who start these schemes walk away with everyone’s money.

9. Beware of work-at-home schemes, such as being paid to take surveys, mystery shopping, or network marketing (recruiting friends to sell a company’s products). These are often set with the trap of paying upfront for “product samples.” If you need to buy something to participate, run, don’t walk away.

10. If you receive an item in the mail that you never ordered or paid for, it’s considered a gift. If you get bills or collection letters from a seller who sent you something you never ordered, write to the seller stating your intention to treat the item as a gift. If the bills continue, insist that the seller send you proof of your order. If this doesn’t stop the bills, notify the state consumer protection agency in the state where the merchant is located. You can also complain about mail fraud to your local U.S. Attorney’s office, and the local postal inspector.

Article courtesy of ARA Content

Protect Yourself from Identity Theft

Filed under Consumer

(ARA) – If you had to venture a guess, what would you think is the fastest growing crime affecting older Americans? Years ago, burglary and robbery topped the list. Today, it’s identity theft.

According to Consumer Sentinel, the complaint database developed and maintained by the Federal Trade Commission, 22,191 seniors across the country fell victim to the crime in 2004. The 2005 statistics, which haven’t been released yet, are expected to be significantly higher.

“Identity theft is a crime of opportunity and the bad guys often target seniors because they perceive older adults as the most vulnerable members of our society; but armed with knowledge, you can protect yourself from becoming a victim,” says Dennis Everett of Dignity Memorial’s Smart and Safe Living program. He points out a good place to start is with a working knowledge of how the crime is perpetrated.

How do thieves get your information?

According to The Identity Theft Resource Center, a national non-profit organization founded in 1999 by a woman who fell victim to the crime, there are many ways. Thieves may steal your mail or wallet; go through your trash can, looking for papers with personal information; listen in on conversations you have in public; or trick you into giving them the information over the telephone or by e-mail.

They may also obtain your personal information by purchasing it on the Internet or from someone who has already stolen it; by taking it from a loan or credit application form you filled out or from files at a hospital, bank, school or business with which you deal; or by retrieving it from dumpsters outside of such companies.

What can you do to protect yourself?

• Check your credit reports once a year from all three of the credit reporting agencies — Experian, Equifax and TransUnion.

TransUnion: (800) 888-4213
Experian: (888) EXPERIAN
Equifax: (800) 685-1111

• Guard your personal information. Be very careful about giving out your Social Security Number (SSN)

• Don’t put your SSN or drivers license number on your checks.

• Destroy papers you throw out, especially those with sensitive or identifying information. A crosscut paper shredder works best.

• Be suspicious of telephone solicitors. Never provide information unless you have initiated the call.

• Do not reply to and delete suspicious e-mail requests.

• Use a locked mailbox to send and receive all mail.

Article courtesy of ARA Content

Get More from Your Credit Card

Filed under Consumer

(ARA) – As we move closer to what will be a virtually cashless society, the number of ways we will be able to use credit will continue to increase. This trend underscores the importance of selecting the right kind of credit card that offers the features, tools, services and rewards that are designed around the specific ways you choose to use credit. Consumers can ensure they are getting more from their credit card by keeping the following recommendations in mind.

Relevant Account Management Features

The more you use your credit card, the more important it is to have complete control over your account. For example, selecting a credit card that lets you choose your own payment date, or even schedule your payments in advance, is a great way to manage your monthly finances on your own terms. Card programs that offer e-mail alerts that remind you when your due date is approaching or when you are reaching your credit limit are also useful for keeping your payments and spending on track.

Maximize Your Rewards

Today’s rewards cards provide all the conveniences of a credit card along with great offerings like cash back, discounts on select merchandise, miles and more. But with so many options to choose from, the key is finding a credit card rewards program that offers easy ways to accelerate those rewards, based on how you use credit. For example, the Discover More Card offers the Get More program, which lets cardmembers get 5 percent “Cashback Bonus” in popular categories that change four times a year like gas, travel, apparel, restaurants, movies and more. This program is appealing to millions of consumers, since the categories rotate and coincide with their spending patterns during the year.

Make Your Money Go Further

Many credit cards allow customers to opt for either rewards points or cash back on their purchases. But when it comes to using those rewards, flexible redemption options are just as important, such as the ability to redeem rewards as a statement credit, a direct deposit or gift card.

Look For Extras

Many cards offer additional benefits beyond cash back on your regular purchases. For example, some cards offer:

• Discounts of 5 to 20 percent off when you shop at top online retailers
• The opportunity to increase, and even double your rewards when you redeem them for brand-name gift cards or e-certificates * Cash over your purchase at the register without paying a transaction fee
• Free travel benefits such as accident insurance or access to a helpful travel hotline

Some cards even boast all these features. Make sure to pick a card that offers a strong package of meaningful discounts, extra perks and relevant benefits.

Select a Card that’s Backed by Exceptional Customer Service

Being able to get help with your account 24/7 is critical. Online help options are important, but also make sure your credit card company has a good reputation for fast and knowledgeable customer service. You want to make sure that a representative is committed to solving any issues in the most effective and efficient way possible.

Use Your Card with Confidence

People are using credit cards in more places and in more ways than ever before, so it’s critical to protect yourself from unauthorized charges or fraud. Make sure your credit card offers advanced and convenient fraud protection, especially a $0 fraud liability guarantee that ensures you are never held responsible for unauthorized charges — online or offline, anytime and anywhere.

Article courtesy of ARAcontent