Beware of These Common Scams

Gloria Nye, Bollich, Patricia A., Braud, Emily  |  9/23/2010 8:08:44 PM

Scam artists are always at work, even in a recession. Many scams and frauds count on people being more vulnerable when they are desperate due to hard times. The bottom line, as always, is that if it sounds too good to be true, beware!

AARP warns that scams are on the rise in the wake of health care reform. Con artists are trying to sell “ObamaCare” insurance, telling people they’ll go to jail if they don’t have the coverage. The truth is, the requirement to have health insurance doesn’t begin until 2014, and you can’t be jailed for not having insurance.

Also, AARP warns elderly homeowners to avoid reverse mortgage scams, some of which promote the purchase of annuities, long-term care insurance or investments.

Beware of “free trials,” where you only have to pay a small amount for shipping. They ask for your credit card information for the shipping and then unauthorized charges are made to your credit card.

Credit repair or debt settlement scammers say they can “fix” your bad credit for you or settle your debt for less than you owe. They charge hundreds of dollars upfront to make calls to creditors that you can make yourself for free. The only way to “fix” your credit is to pay your bills on time. For real help with credit problems, call the National Foundation for Credit Counseling at 800-388-2227.

Mortgage modifications and foreclosure rescue scams prey on desperate homeowners and make matters much worse with promises of saving homeowners from foreclosure. They don’t. For legitimate help, contact a HUD-approved counselor at 888-995-HOPE (4673) and speak to a HUD-approved housing specialist for free.

Gold-buying scams offer to buy gold jewelry using inaccurate scales to weigh the items or claim that mailed items were lost in transit, both of which result in consumers getting less or nothing for their valuable gold jewelry items.

Government stimulus scams promise you a share of cash in return for your bank account information, and then your bank account gets robbed.

A distress scam is a phone report that your grandchild or other family member has been arrested or in an accident. A scammer calls, pretending to be your relative or a police officer, saying to send cash immediately.

Work-at-home schemes are almost always bogus job offers that require you to reveal a bank account or credit card number, or wire money, to the scammer.

Auto warranty offers target senior citizens, warning them that their auto warranty is about to expire and can be extended. Scammers get credit card information, and consumers are charged but get nothing in return.

Lottery scams tell people they’ve won a prize in a national lottery and they must send money to pay fees and taxes. The prize doesn’t exist.

Advance-fee frauds are letters, emails or checks from other countries, offering a large sum of money in return for using your bank account or asking for cash up front to transfer money out of the country.

Modeling, job placement and mystery shopper scams promise work or fame and fortune, but don’t produce.

Free Credit Report.com is the ad we see on TV all the time, but the report is not free. The only free credit report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com

A free luncheon seminar is an attempt to sell supposedly low-risk/high-return investments to seniors, but this solicitation is only of benefit to the salesperson.

Unauthorized or recurring charges can appear on credit cards or phone bills for auto road service, insurance or discount buying club memberships without the consumer being aware that a sale has taken place.

Free vacations are an attempt to sell timeshares that have both upfront and recurring costs, and re-sale is usually not an option.

Timeshare sales scams are unsolicited calls from “brokers” who claim to have buyers for a hard-to-sell timeshare for an upfront fee. The money is collected by the scammer, but nothing gets sold.

900 phone numbers incur significant charges. Scammers send notification of a win with instructions to call a 900 number to claim your prize. You get nothing except the phone charges.

Phony law enforcement association and ministry telemarketer fund raisers appeal to your desire to help the police or assist the needy, but these scammers pocket most or all of the donations.

Phony debt collectors demand payment and threaten legal action for loans the consumer never had or may have already paid off, and these scammers attempt to get personal information from the consumer.

Social network scams are appearing on Facebook and other sites, where hackers ask you to click on links that give them access to your account, which they can then use for identity theft purposes.

To check on something questionable, or to report any of these frauds, contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Info-Line at 800-351-4889.

References:  AARP Bulletin, July, 2010; Better Business Bureau

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