10 Tips to Fight Fraud - How to Protect Yourself
The world is filled with shady characters. Con artists and disreputable companies will do whatever it takes to get your money. They’ll lie and cheat to steal your life savings – if you let them. That’s why you need to be on guard all the time. Because once you wire off the money or give them your Social Security number, the damage is done. Life does not come with an “undo” button.
These 10 tips are based on 35 years of covering consumer issues and talking to thousands of people who’ve been scammed or ripped off.
- Be skeptical
You need to question everything: telemarketing calls, mail solicitations, email offers, unknown websites, and all advertisements. Don’t take things at face value. A scam can look or sound very legitimate. Think it through and check it out before you respond.
- If you've really won a prize, it's free!
It doesn't matter what the caller claims or the letter says – do not pay to play a contest or to claim a prize. If you are told to do any of the following, it’s a scam: buy a product to qualify, send in a processing fee, pay shipping or handling charges, pay the taxes owed, or give them your credit card or bank account numbers for any reason.
- Don't wire money to strangers
No legitimate transaction involves receiving a check or money order for more than the amount required with instructions to deposit it and wire back the extra amount. The check or money order will turn out to be bogus and you’ll be stuck paying back the bank the amount you withdrew and wired to the scammers. Remember: you are responsible for any check or money order you deposit in your bank account.
- Guard your private information
Armed with your bank account number and PIN code, a con artist can do a lot of damage. A common ruse is for a phone bandit to pose as a bank employee who wants your PIN to solve a computer problem. Don’t do it! Those who need your account numbers or secret codes already have them. They’d never call you or send you an e-mail asking for it.
Your Social Security number is also dangerous in the wrong hands. A thief can use it to steal your money and your identity. Social Security numbers are also used to access many financial and medical records. So guard that number and only give it out when absolutely necessary to someone you know and trust.
- Don't be fooled by 'no-risk' offers and money-back guarantees
These offers are confidence builders designed to keep you from seriously evaluating a product or service before you buy. With most “free trial” offers you pay the shipping, which often turns out to be more than the product is worth. Once they have your credit or debit card number, some companies sign you up for future purchases – whether you realize it or not – which can be hard to stop.
A money-back guarantee is only as good as the company that offers it. Sometimes the rules are so restrictive it’s impossible to get a refund. I’ve seen cases where merely opening the package voids the offer. If you are allowed to return the product, you can expect to pay to ship it back.
- Get it in writing
Verbal promises don’t count. It’s as simple as that. I don’t care what the salesperson tells you, the only thing that matters is what’s written down. In fact, most contracts specifically state verbal promises are not binding. That’s why you need to read, understand, and agree to the terms before you sign.
- Cyberspace has cyber-crooks!
Just because you find it online or it comes into your computer via email, doesn’t make it legit. There are lots of crooks on the Internet. Many of them aren’t even in this country, which makes prosecuting them very difficult. It doesn’t take much to set up an impressive-looking website that’s jam-packed with bogus information. Claims can be exaggerated, testimonials made up, and seals of approval forged. Be as skeptical of any offer in cyberspace as you would in the real world – maybe more so!
- Use a credit card for online and mail order
A credit card gives you better fraud protection – guaranteed by federal law – than a debit card. If you pay with a credit card and you don’t get the merchandise, are charged too much or the item is defective, you can contact your credit card company and dispute the charge. They must remove that charge from your bill while they investigate. Not so with a debit card.
Some people tell me they’re afraid to use a credit card for telephone or online purchases. But that’s just what a credit card is designed for. If there’s a problem, the credit card company is required to deal with it. This doesn’t mean you can get careless, but credit cards are the safest way you can shop online, through the mail or over the phone.
- Take your time
Don’t let yourself be rushed into buying something. Anyone offering a real bargain doesn’t have to high-pressure you into buying on the spot. If you’re told the deal is off if you walk out the door or hang up the phone, do just that.
Don’t say yes to unknown telemarketers, even those who claim to be calling for a charity or non-profit group. Ask them to send you more information. And don’t respond to postcards or letters from unknown companies that require an immediate response.
- Know the warning signs
With most scams the warning signs are there. You just have to look for them. People who get stung just tend to ignore them. They let greed replace common sense. Don’t give your hard-earned money to a con artist!.