Don't Be a Victim of Con Men and Scam Artists

Although we all try to be pleasant and helpful to others, especially during the holiday season, we don't want our helpfulness to cause us to become victims of crime. Unfortunately, whenever we are busy and preoccupied, it sometimes seem as though we become even more susceptible to frauds and scams. People who are trying to cheat us always seem to be lurking just around the corner, with more and more clever ways to trick us. What are some of the new scams you need to watch for, not just during the holiday season, but all year long?

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Phishing Scams

Phishing is the term used to describe fraudulent emails that are sent to unsuspecting people. Thousands of emails are sent out by these crooks, in the hopes that they will "catch" a victim. The emails can pretend to be coming from your bank, the IRS, the social security administration, or a charity. Recently, some of these phishing emails have claimed to be from PayPal. They are often addressed to "Dear PayPal User." If you are a client of PayPal, they know your name. They always address their emails directly to each person, using your full name. If you receive an email like this, contact PayPal to report this suspicious activity. The same is true if you receive a suspicious looking email from your bank, a department store, a credit card company or a government agency. The companies that you normally deal with already know who you are, and will not send out mass emails asking you to respond with personal information, such as your name, social security number, driver's license number, etc. If you ever receive emails such as these, contact the businesses or agencies immediately. If it is a scam, they will be happy to contact the appropriate legal authorities.

Phony Advertisements

Some scammers have been known to place ads on the internet and in newspapers, promising to sell you items that they really don't have. They collect your deposit or payment, and then disappear. Be careful buying tickets to events from strangers, unless you know who they are, or they have been referred by someone you trust. Sometimes scammers will put ads online, offering special deals for popular gifts at discount prices. The items could be stolen, or may not be available at all. The best way to avoid this scam is to only shop on sites you know, and have used in the past.

Another variation on the phony advertisement scam is when they advertise jobs that don't exist, pretending to be employment agencies. When you contact them about the position, they tell you that they are finding employees for XYZ Company, but you have to pay the employment agency fee in order to be hired. This seems to happen more in the fall, when they can pretend to be hiring seasonal workers for the holidays. Do not pay an agency, especially to get you a seasonal job. In most cases, when firms use employment agencies, the company that is doing the hiring will pay the fee.

Phone Call Scams

Some scammers have left cards at doors saying that a parcel company tried to deliver a package, and to call a long distance toll number for details. If it is not a 1-800 number or a toll-free number, be suspicious. There have been several cases in which the unsuspecting resident has been charged an exorbitant fee to make the phone call, and the person who left the card at your door doesn't even have a package for you. They are just trying to get you to call that number!

Another phone call scam has happened several times in the past year in the retirement community where I live. Someone will call an elderly person and, when they answer, say "Hi, Grandma!" If the elderly person is, indeed, a grandparent, they will usually say the name of their grandchild, "Emily, is this you?" The caller then pretends to be Emily for a few minutes, and proceeds to tell her "grandmother" that she is in trouble, needs money and doesn't want to call her parents. In one case, an elderly resident of our community actually went to her bank to wire money to an out-of-state location, but an attentive bank teller began to ask questions about the transaction … because the same thing had happened with another customer of the same bank a few days before. Together, they called the police and, sure enough, it was a scam. However, how many times has this scam succeeded, and the elderly person has been too embarrassed to tell anyone?

There are many other situations in which you will want to avoid being cheated by telemarketers and others who may call your home. To learn more, you may be interested in reading, "Avoid Telemarketing Fraud."

Charity Scams

Sadly, many fraudulent groups or individuals will put together phony websites, signs, e-mails or other paraphernalia in an attempt to get you to donate to their charity. Sometimes they will use the "phishing" emails mentioned above. In other situations, they may stand in public locations with a brochure or sign showing photos of starving children. They work hard to pull at your heartstrings, especially during the holidays when everyone wants to be generous and charitable. Do not be fooled. Make donations to charities that you know are legitimate. To learn more about avoiding charity scams, you may also want to read the article "Avoid Charity Scams."

Letters to Santa Claus

Even Santa Claus is not exempt from being used by scam artists. There are dishonest companies that will offer to send a letter from Santa to your children, for a fee. However, sometimes they collect the fee but never deliver on sending out the letters. Make sure you are doing business with a reputable company.

It would be nice to be able to trust everyone we meet, and believe that others are always going to treat us fairly and honestly. Unfortunately, this is not the case, and we are wise to take precautions so that we are not taken advantage of. When we do spend money, we want to be certain that it is used to purchase the product that we expect to receive. In order to be sure this happens, do your research, ask friends to recommend companies they have done business with before, or stick with companies that you know. Be careful about handing over money to anyone, unless you feel confident that they will deliver on the promised item or service. Check out unfamiliar businesses with the Better Business Bureau. Research them online to see if there have been an unusual number of complaints about them. Take your time before making a purchase from a new business or website. You will be glad you did.

To protect yourself from other financial scams, and to manage your finances well, you may also be interested in reading some of these articles:

Avoid Charity Scams

Avoid Foreclosure Scams!

Avoid Telemarketing Fraud

Buying Cheap Pet Drugs Online

Are Thieves Targeting Your Car?

Learn More About How to Protect Yourself From Scams

Outsmarting the Scam Artists: How to Protect Yourself From the Most Clever Cons
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(price as of Aug 28, 2014)
This book by AARP has useful information for people of all ages who want to protect themselves from con men.