Whether it’s your “life savings” or just a few thousand dollars, find out how to protect yourself.
Read the information below .. and immediately report
any scams to your local law enforcement officials.
Don’t be the next victim!
If you don't see the specific situation you're looking for, click here for additional information.
Check Overpayment Scams: Seller Beware
Thinking of selling a car or another valuable item through an online auction or your newspaper’s classified section?
Beware of overpayment scams
According to Federal Trade Commission (FTC) officials, the nation’s consumer protection agency, the overpayment scams work like this: Someone responds to your posting or ad, and offers to use a cashier’s check, personal check or corporate check to pay for the item you’re selling. At the last minute, the so-called buyer (or the buyer’s “agent”) comes up with a reason for writing the check for more than the purchase price, and asks you to wire back the difference after you deposit the check. You deposit the check and wire the funds back to the “buyer.” Later, the check bounces, leaving you liable for the entire amount. The checks are counterfeit, says the FTC, but good enough to fool unsuspecting bank tellers.
In a different version of the scam, the FTC says, consumers get a check that has their “winnings” from a lottery. They’re asked to pay taxes or fees. Sometimes, the sender claims to be trapped in a foreign country without any way to cash the check. Either way, federal officials say, if you deposit the check, you’ll lose.
Here’s how to avoid a check overpayment scam:
Know who you’re dealing with. In any transaction, independently confirm the buyer’s name, street address, and telephone number.
Don’t accept a check for more than your selling price, no matter how tempting. Ask the buyer to write the check for the correct amount. If the buyer refuses to send the correct amount, return the check. Don’t send the merchandise.
If you accept payment by check, ask for a check drawn on a local bank, or a bank with a local branch. That way, you can make a personal visit to make sure the check is valid. If that’s not possible, call the bank where it was purchased and ask if the check is valid. Get the bank’s phone number from directory assistance or an Internet site that you know and trust, not from the person who gave you the check.
If the buyer insists that you wire back funds, end the transaction immediately. Legitimate buyers don’t pressure you to send money by Western Union or a similar company. In addition, you have little recourse if there’s a problem with a wire transaction.
Resist any pressure to “act now.” If the buyer’s offer is good now, it should be good after the check clears the issuing bank.
Throw away any offer that asks you to pay for a prize or a gift. If it’s free or a gift, you shouldn’t have to pay for it. Free is free.
Resist the urge to enter foreign lotteries. Most foreign lottery solicitations are phony. What’s more, it’s illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or the telephone.
Check Overpayment Scams: Seller Beware
No Service or feature can entirely eliminate check fraud. However, measures can be taken to greatly reduce the risk of check tampering or duplication. Below are suggestions for preventing check fraud.
Avoid leaving large blank spaces in the convenience dollar amount or legal dollar amount lines on checks you write. Avoid leaving large blank spaces on the “Pay to the Order of” line.
Immediately report to your bank if checks payable to you are stolen.
Protect your account records and any documents containing personal identification information.
Close unnecessary accounts and destroy any checks for closed accounts.
Inform your bank about the status of your accounts.
Store your unused checks in a secure area.
Facts You Should Know About Counterfeit Cashier’s Checks
Who is responsible? Although the bank made funds available to you and therefore you thought the check was “good”, you remain responsible if the check is counterfeit. It does not make any difference whether you cash the check or deposit the check. The bank whose name appears on a counterfeit is not responsible.
Your bank’s funds availability policy only serves to let you know when the bank will generally make funds available to you when it accepts a check for deposit. Making the funds available does not change your fundamental responsibility for the item.
How to protect yourself.. The best defense is to realize that if a deal is “too good to be true”, it probably isn’t true. If you’re asked to cash a cashier’s check for someone, you should be extremely concerned. Do not respond to unsolicited offers received over the Internet from people you do not know. Ask yourself why you are “so lucky” to have been selected. Be particularly wary of emails apparently originating from overseas. Being overseas makes it incredibly difficult, if not impossible, for law enforcement to identify and prosecute the perpetrator.
You should call the issuing bank to attempt to verify the validity of the cashier’s check before depositing the item, releasing any merchandise, transferring funds to a third party or sending any of the proceeds. DO NOT call any telephone number that appears on the check since that may connect you to one of the perpetrators. Instead, use directory assistance or one of the Internet search functions to obtain the bank’s telephone number.
Forgeries & Counterfeits in the United States and Canada
“Official Checks” can be forgeries or counterfeits
Beware of “survey” schemes
Forgeries/counterfeits are circulating in the US and Canada. Checks with a bank’s name and logo on “Official Checks” have been circulating with a scheme similar to the following: an individual receives a letter from a company asking the individual to cash the check at their bank and forward through Moneygram (or Western Union) less a $100 payment to the individual addressed in the letter to a Moneygram (or Western Union) account in the US or Canada. The $100 payment to the individual is intended as payment for performing a survey on the quality of the employee at the Moneygram (or Western Union) store. This is a new type of scheme that is attempting to defraud individuals under the pretense that the company has an account with the bank when it does not.
Protect Your Cash, Credit Cards and Checking Account!
Don’t give your credit card number or checking account number to strangers
Don’t be “conned” by con artists, crooks or ID thieves (Con Artists are experienced in gaining trust .. Beware!)
Don’t let your emotions overrule “common sense” .. To good to be True, isn’t TRUE!
Protect your identity and your “cash” by restricting access to your credit card or checking account number
Beware of the individual who wants to share their inheritance with you, especially if they ask you for “up front” money!
A woman with numerous aliases was arrested in September 2005 for defrauding individuals through an elaborate scheme that involved banks, attorneys and well-known brokerage firms. She claimed she was the recipient of a multi-billion dollar trust left to her by a wealthy grandfather, that she was dying of cancer and wanted to spend her inheritance with them. She convinced the victims that she was paying their bills, personal and business as well as purchasing them large homes and luxury vehicles. In turn, the victims were giving her cash and access to their credit cards to pay for food, clothing and hotel suites while waiting for the mythical inheritance funds to be transferred into a trust fund that she had established for them. During this scam, more than $300,000 in actual out-of-pocket loss, thousands of dollars in credit card debt, $5.4 million dollars in real estate contracts and more than $200,000 in vehicle purchase contracts were documented. The woman has been convicted of 22 counts of wire fraud on the Federal level for this scam. She has been arrested in other states for similar crimes.
Credit Card Schemes
Poor credit? No problem!
Unsecured credit card
No credit check necessary
Do you have poor credit? Are you having trouble obtaining a VISA or MasterCard or other major credit card because of a poor credit rating or other reason? Beware of con artists and their phony credit card offers.
Some seemingly legitimate programs to extend you credit will end up costing you lots of money, and you won't get the credit cards you think are being offered.
The scam can start with a phone call, a postcard, or a letter, which claims that for a fee you can obtain a VISA or MasterCard or other major credit card, or establish that you are credit worthy enough to obtain one of these cards. Typically, the promoters of these phony offers indicate that your card is pre-approved and that it can be obtained without any credit check. The fee charged typically ranges from $35 to $50.
When your card arrives in the mail, you find out it can only be used to pay for orders from a specific store or catalog. The store or catalog, which is owned by the company that issued the credit card, may not even offer merchandise of interest to you.
This kind of "single-use credit card" is not a new concept, but recently unwary victims of this scam are being sold these credit cards by con artists who misrepresent them as being all-purpose bank credit cards. At times, the deception is magnified by the fact that the merchandise in the catalog from which you must choose your purchases is either inferior or grossly overpriced.
You can protect yourself against the phony "one-shot" credit card offers by being very careful when you are considering opening a new credit card account. If you have poor credit, be skeptical if you are offered a pre-approved card with no credit check. Be sure you know the specific purpose of the card. If you are not satisfied with the information provided by those marketing the cards, do not pay the required fee. Otherwise, you may become a victim. You may also wish to check with your local Better Business Bureau, State Attorney General's office, or Postal Inspection Service office to determine if the company offering you a credit card is under investigation.
Federal Trade Commission Names Its Dirty Dozen:
12 Scams Most Likely to Arrive Via Bulk Email
Email boxes are filling up with more offers for business opportunities than any other kind of unsolicited commercial email. That's a problem, according to the Federal Trade Commission, because many of these offers are scams.
1. Business opportunities
These business opportunities make it sound easy to start a business that will bring lots of income without much work or cash outlay. The solicitations trumpet unbelievable earnings claims of $140 a day, $1,000 a day, or more, and claim that the business doesn't involve selling, meetings, or personal contact with others, or that someone else will do all the work. Many business opportunity solicitations claim to offer a way to make money in an Internet-related business. Short on details but long on promises, these messages usually offer a telephone number to call for more information. In many cases, you'll be told to leave your name and telephone number so that a salesperson can call you back with the sales pitch.
The scam: Many of these are illegal pyramid schemes masquerading as legitimate opportunities to earn money.
2. Bulk email
Bulk email solicitations offer to sell you lists of email addresses, by the millions, to which you can send your own bulk solicitations. Some offer software that automates the sending of email messages to thousands or millions of recipients. Others offer the service of sending bulk email solicitations on your behalf. Some of these offers say, or imply, that you can make a lot of money using this marketing method.
The problem: Sending bulk email violates the terms of service of most Internet service providers. If you use one of the automated email programs, your ISP may shut you down. In addition, inserting a false return address into your solicitations, as some of the automated programs allow you to do, may land you in legal hot water with the owner of the address's domain name. Several states have laws regulating the sending of unsolicited commercial email, which you may unwittingly violate by sending bulk email. Few legitimate businesses, if any, engage in bulk email marketing for fear of offending potential customers.
3. Chain letters
You're asked to send a small amount of money ($5 to $20) to each of four or five names on a list, replace one of the names on the list with your own, and then forward the revised message via bulk email. The letter may claim that the scheme is legal, that it's been reviewed or approved by the government; or it may refer to sections of U.S. law that legitimize the scheme. Don't believe it!
The scam: Chain letters-traditional or high-tech-are almost always illegal, and nearly all of the people who participate in them lose their money. The fact that a "product" such as a report on how to make money fast, a mailing list, or a recipe may be changing hands in the transaction does not change the legality of these schemes.
4. Work-at-home schemes
Envelope-stuffing solicitations promise steady income for minimal labor-for example, you'll earn $2 each time you fold a brochure and seal it in an envelope. Craft assembly work schemes often require an investment of hundreds of dollars in equipment or supplies, and many hours of your time producing goods for a company that has promised to buy them.
The scam: You'll pay a small fee to get started in the envelope-stuffing business. Then, you'll learn that the email sender never had real employment to offer. Instead, you'll get instructions on how to send the same envelope-stuffing ad in your own bulk emailings. If you earn any money, it will be from others who fall for the scheme you're perpetuating. And after spending the money and putting in the time on the craft assembly work, you are likely to find promoters who refuse to pay you, claiming that your work isn't up to their "quality standards."
5. Health and diet scams
Pills that let you lose weight without exercising or changing your diet, herbal formulas that liquefy your fat cells so that they are absorbed by your body, and cures for impotence and hair loss are among the scams flooding email boxes.
The scam: These gimmicks don't work. The fact is that successful weight loss requires a reduction in calories and an increase in physical activity. Beware of case histories from "cured" consumers claiming amazing results; testimonials from "famous" medical experts you've never heard of; claims that the product is available from only one source or for a limited time; and ads that use phrases like "scientific breakthrough," "miraculous cure," "exclusive product," "secret formula," and "ancient ingredient."
6. Effortless income
The trendiest get-rich-quick schemes offer unlimited profits exchanging money on world currency markets; newsletters describing a variety of easy-money opportunities; the perfect sales letter; and the secret to making $4,000 in one day.
The scam: If these systems worked, wouldn't everyone be using them? The thought of easy money may be appealing, but success generally requires hard work.
7. Free goods
Some email messages offer valuable goods-for example, computers, other electronic items, and long-distance phone cards-for free. You're asked to pay a fee to join a club, then told that to earn the offered goods, you have to bring in a certain number of participants. You're paying for the right to earn income by recruiting other participants, but your payoff is in goods, not money.
The scam: Most of these messages are covering up pyramid schemes, operations that inevitably collapse. Almost all of the payoff goes to the promoters and little or none to consumers who pay to participate.
8. Investment opportunities
Investment schemes promise outrageously high rates of return with no risk. One version seeks investors to help form an offshore bank. Others are vague about the nature of the investment, stressing the rates of return. Many are Ponzi schemes, in which early investors are paid off with money contributed by later investors. This makes the early investors believe that the system actually works, and encourages them to invest even more.
Promoters of fraudulent investments often operate a particular scam for a short time, quickly spend the money they take in, then close down before they can be detected. Often, they reopen under another name, selling another investment scam. In their sales pitch, they'll say that they have high-level financial connections; that they're privy to inside information; that they'll guarantee the investment; or that they'll buy back the investment after a certain time. To close the deal, they often serve up phony statistics, misrepresent the significance of a current event, or stress the unique quality of their offering-anything to deter you from verifying their story.
The scam: Ponzi schemes eventually collapse because there isn't enough money coming in to continue simulating earnings. Other schemes are a good investment for the promoters, but no for participants.
9. Cable descrambler kits
For a small sum of money, you can buy a kit to assemble a cable descrambler that supposedly allows you to receive cable television transmissions without paying any subscription fee.
The scam: The device that you build probably won't work. Most of the cable TV systems in the U.S. use technology that these devices can't crack. What's more, even if it worked, stealing service from a cable television company is illegal.
10. Guaranteed loans or credit, on easy terms
Some email messages offer home-equity loans that don't require equity in your home, as well as solicitations for guaranteed, unsecured credit cards, regardless of your credit history. Usually, these are said to be offered by offshore banks. Sometimes they are combined with pyramid schemes, which offer you an opportunity to make money by attracting new participants to the scheme.
The scams: The home equity loans turn out to be useless lists of lenders who will turn you down if you don't meet their qualifications. The promised credit cards never come through, and the pyramid money-making schemes always collapse.
11. Credit repair
Credit repair scams offer to erase accurate negative information from your credit file so you can qualify for a credit card, auto loan, home mortgage, or a job.
The scam: The scam artists who promote these services can't deliver. Only time, a deliberate effort, and a personal debt repayment plan will improve your credit. The companies that advertise credit repair services appeal to consumers with poor credit histories. Not only can't they provide you with a clean credit record, but they also may be encouraging you to violate federal law. If you follow their advice by lying on a loan or credit application, misrepresenting your Social Security number, or getting an Employer Identification Number from the Internal Revenue Service under false pretenses, you will be committing fraud.
12. Vacation prize promotions
Electronic certificates congratulating you on "winning" a fabulous vacation for a very attractive price are among the scams arriving in your email. Some say you have been "specially selected" for this opportunity.
The scam: Most unsolicited commercial email goes to thousands or millions of recipients at a time. Often, the cruise ship you're booked on may look more like a tug boat. The hotel accommodations likely are shabby, and you may be required to pay more for an upgrade. Scheduling the vacation at the time you want it also may require an additional fee.
Disaster Relief Scams
Danger of identity theft
Beware of look-alike websites
Donate directly to known charities
Possible computer virus
DO NOT link to unsolicited email
There are fraudulent website solicitations for Hurricane Katrina Relief .. but that should not deter you from donating to worthy disaster relief organizations.
As of September 8, 2005, there were over 2,300 websites soliciting for donations for relief. Most of these are fraudulent and many are coming out of Europe. There are several dangers in responding to these sites. The first is identity theft, the second is your funds are not going where you intended, and last is the possibility of getting a computer virus. The safest way to ensure you are not a target of a fraudulent website is to contact a recognized agency directly.
The Red Cross (www.RedCross.org) is currently the biggest site that is being duplicated. Many people are getting unsolicited emails that appear legitimate, but when you click on the link in the email, you are actually re-directed to a website that is not associated to the Red Cross in any way.
It is advisable not to follow any link sent to you in an unsolicited email.
Protect Elderly from Fraud
The next time you visit your parents, other elderly family members or older friends, Postal Inspectors advise you to watch for these areas of concern:
Look for stacks of unsolicited mail proclaiming the recipient to be "a guaranteed winner" or offering lottery tickets for sale.
Watch for an unusual number of packages on hand containing inexpensive costume jewelry, plastic cameras, or wristwatches.
Note if they are receiving unsolicited telephone calls from fast-talking operators offering "fantastic" opportunities to claim prizes or make sure-fire investments. If so, you can arrange for an unlisted phone number.
Volunteer to help balance their checkbooks, and ask about any questionable checks or sudden, large withdrawals. Offer to go over credit card statements to ensure that only authorized purchases are listed.
Offer to pick up their mail to see if they are receiving unsolicited sweepstakes or lottery offers. If so, they may be on a variety of "sucker lists" being circulated by con artists. Have a trusted family friend help check the mail daily.
Talk to them about evaluating offers they receive in the mail or on the phone from someone they don't know. Suggest that they talk over such offers with someone before accepting them.
One way you can help protect elderly family members or other loved ones from unscrupulous con artists is to become aware of the types of scams being used—including phony sweepstakes, “guaranteed” prize schemes, easy credit deals, fake employment advertisements, and bogus money-making opportunities.
AOL Alert & Other Internet Provider Scams
An internet provider calls or emails asking you to verify your credit card information
eBay or another online merchant contacts you to verify personal information
An online banking service requests that you confirm your checking account number, asks you to verify your password or seeks additional personal information
AOL subscribers have complained to the Fraud Bureau that they have been contacted by phone or emailed by an AOL representative requesting that they verify their credit card number. The caller asked for the number and the expire date. Be wary of the individual who might read out an incorrect credit card number in the hopes that you will supply the correct number!
The emails that requested credit card details had an AOL logo affixed. This is another situation where thieves have produced counterfeit websites. The FBI, the IRS, other government agencies, charities and banks have had their websites “duplicated” by computer savvy thieves to confuse and defraud you.
AOL does not require any credit card verification. If you receive such a call or email, DO NOT give out any information .. not your name, address, telephone, credit card .. nothing!!! Let AOL or local law enforcement know about such scams so that they may alert the public and improve the awareness of such scams affecting your community.
Whether you sell or purchase items on eBay, you may be subject to a similar scam .. someone requesting your financial information. Protect your identity! Do not give out personal information. Be wary to anyone who requests your checking account number to facilitate payment to you for an item you listed on Ebay. And never accept or deposit a check you receive for more than the asking price of the item you sell, especially if you are asked to return the excess funds. It is not a valid, legitimate check! Even if the check looks like a “Cashier’s Check”, “Bank Note”, “Counter Check” or “Money Order”, it most likely is a counterfeit.
When you establish an online banking service, you provide the information they need to manage your account, to pay your bills. If you need assistance, you are provided with an email support address and a telephone number. Your online banking service will not call or email you requesting your password. If you get such a request, contact your bank or service provider. DO NOT respond to the email or the telephone number included with the request; it will only take you to the con artist that wants to defraud you, to take your identity, to take your money.
Home Improvement and Home Repair Frauds
Repairman just shows up at your door to do an onsite inspection
Extremely low price for repairs
Cash payment or 50% down payment in advance
Because home repairs and improvements are expensive undertakings, con men and vagabond thieves have entered the industry to rip you off. Be careful if somebody mails you a brochure offering to do an expensive job for an unusually low price. This is a favorite trick of dishonest home repair firms. Once you sign the contract, you learn why the price is so low--the firm never delivers the service you paid for in advance.
Free inspections by con men turn up plenty of expensive repairs you don't need. Some vagabond thieves may not even mail you an offer to do a free inspection. They just show up at your home and try to gain access by posing as utility repairmen or home insulation inspectors offering a free inspection. They may quickly flash something that looks like an identification card to convince you to let them enter. Some shady operators offer to do the work on the spot. However, when they leave, you may be left with a large bill and a faulty repair job.
Precautions you can take to make an informed decision include:
Always get several estimates for every repair job and compare prices and terms. Ask if there is a charge for an estimate before agreeing to let the repair person or company inspect your home.
Make sure you know your salesperson's name and the name and address of the company he or she represents.
Ask the firm for references, and check them out. Inspect the finished product.
Contact your local Better Business Bureau to check out the company's reputation before you authorize any work or pay any money.
If you decide to sign a contract, make sure a completion date is specified and that you know what the job will cost, if work will be subcontracted, if a bond will be posted to protect you against liens on your home, if the contract includes all oral promises made, and if materials to be used are described in detail.
Always pay for home improvement work with a check or money order, never with cash. You may wish to make installment payments at the beginning of a job, when the work is almost complete, and after the job is finished. Many reputable companies do not require payment until work is completed.
The Phony Inheritance Scam
Long lost relative leaves inheritance
Fee for estate report
Fee to process inheritance claim
Individual claims to “estate locator” or “research specialist”
Wouldn't it be nice if you came into an inheritance from a long-lost relative or friend? It does happen, but not very often. So if you receive a notification in the mail from an "estate locator" saying that there is an unclaimed inheritance waiting for you, beware. You could be the target of a slick con artist.
These unscrupulous white collar criminals also call themselves "research specialists"--but they didn't find you by doing research. You are one of thousands across the nation who are targeted in mass mailings. Thousands of individuals with the same last name receive notification that inheritance funds have been located in their names. Many of these recipients are lured into mailing in a fee--sometimes $30 or more--for an estate report, which will supposedly explain where the inheritance is located and how it can be claimed. The promoter may also offer to process your claim for a fee.
All the individuals on the mailing list receive the same estate information, so chances are almost zero that you are the actual heir. In the rare instance when someone on the mailing list has the right to claim the funds, the amount is negligible because many accounts are so small. They may actually be worth less than the fee you must pay to the promoter.
You can protect yourself by checking other sources before sending funds in response to an "estate locator" solicitation. Checking with relatives about recent deaths in the family is one approach. In addition, you can check with the local Better Business Bureau, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, or State Attorney General's office to see if there have been any investigations into the activities of the person or firm making the solicitation.
Remember, legitimate law firms, executors of wills, and others who have been named to distribute estate funds to rightful heirs normally do not request you to pay a fee to find out about your share of the estate.
Catch the Bandit in Your Mailbox
Solicitations are among the 180 billion pieces of mail the U.S. Postal Service delivers each year. While most are for legitimate products, services and charities, others definitely are not. They're the scams, sent by bandits to capitalize on your financial needs, naivete, optimism — or everyone's fantasy of hitting the jackpot.
How can you tell the difference between an offer from a legitimate organization and one from an outfit that's just out to steal your money? It's no easy task. Sham solicitations are slick looking, skillfully written, and can be very convincing. But according to the Federal Trade Commission, the U.S. Postal Inspection Service, and your state Attorney General, a savvy consumer can learn to see through a scam, and boot the bandit right out of the mailbox. That's because most mailbox scams are just variations on the same themes: promises of easy money or easy credit or guarantees that you're a winner of a fabulous or valuable prize.
Everyday Mailbox Scams
You get a postcard that says nothing about subscriptions but asks you to call a telephone number about a contest, prize or sweepstakes entry. If you call, you may get information about contest prizes or drawing dates; you'll definitely get a sales pitch for magazine subscriptions.
The problem: Offers for "free," "prepaid," or "special" magazine subscription deals often leave you with years of monthly payments for magazines you may not want or could buy for less elsewhere. These are deals you can do without.
The mail announces your eligibility for a contest or says you may have won a fabulous prize, but you'll need to pay, at the very least, for a 900 phone number and shipping and handling, before you can enter the contest or collect the prize. Toss any solicitation that asks for money up front.
The problem: Sham solicitations describe the prizes as being far more valuable than they really are.
U.S. law prohibits the cross-border sale or purchase of lottery tickets by phone or mail. It's that simple. However, if you've ever bought a foreign lottery ticket, you will receive more solicitations for lotteries or foreign investments in your mail.
The problem: Fraudulent marketers buy and sell lists of people who have already fallen for scams. You also may receive solicitations that refer to secret systems to make you a winner. Toss them first; then ask yourself two key questions: If there was a secret system, why would a stranger want to share it with you? Why are you hearing about it for the first time through the mail?
You get solicitations in the mail for schemes that pay commissions for recruiting distributors, not for making sales. The solicitations usually ask new distributors to pay for high-priced products and claim that you'll make money from the sales of the distributors you've recruited. These are pyramid schemes.
The problems: First, pyramid schemes are illegal; they collapse when no new distributors can be recruited. Second, only those at the very top make money, at least until the law catches up with them.
Bogus Credit Card Offers and Advance Fee Loans
You receive offers for credit cards or promises or guarantees of loans on easy terms, regardless of your credit history. The fees for these "guaranteed" offers start around $100.
The problems: Legitimate lenders never guarantee credit. If you get anything, it will be a list of lenders who will reject your application if you don't meet their qualifications.
Pitches for Credit Repair
Your mail is filled with offers from credit repair companies and credit clinics that claim they can clean up your credit history — for a fee — so you can qualify for a credit card, auto loan, mortgage, or job.
The problem: It's illegal to charge an upfront fee for credit repair. There's nothing a credit repair company can do for you for a fee that you can't do for yourself for free. You can correct genuine mistakes or outdated information yourself by contacting credit bureaus directly.
Travel Scams and Vacation Prize Promotions
Certificates or faxes that congratulate you on winning an exotic trip or fabulous vacation offer may indicate that you are one in a million or "specially selected."
The problems: These unsolicited mailings land in millions of mailboxes, and the promoters couldn't possibly make good on the promises. Inevitably, the cruise ship is a ferry, the hotel accommodations are shoddy, and you usually have to pay for an upgrade. In addition, scheduling the vacation at the time you want may require an additional fee.
You receive an unsolicited check in the mail.
The problem: By cashing the check, you may be agreeing to be billed monthly for something you don't want or need, such as Internet access or membership in a Web directory.
You receive a letter asking you to send a small amount of money to a name on a list, replace one of the names on the list with your own, and then forward the revised message. The letter may claim that the scheme is legal or that it's been reviewed by a lawyer.
The problem: Chain letters that ask you to send money are almost always illegal, and nearly everyone who participates in them loses.
Over half a million federally recognized charities solicit for contributions. Most are legitimate, but not all. A legitimate charity sends information about its mission, how your donation will be used, and proof that your contribution is tax-deductible.
The problem: Some phony charities use names that sound or look like those of respected organizations. If you have doubts about the legitimacy of a charitable organization, check with the local Chamber of Commerce, your state Attorney General, or your local consumer protection agency.
Booting the Bandit
Whether the fraudulent solicitation takes the form of a chain letter, a business opportunity, a check, or another "guaranteed" path to easy money, it's best to beware and prepare. Here's how to boot a bandit out of your mailbox:
Toss any solicitation that asks for payment for a "free" gift. If it's free or a gift, you shouldn't have to pay. Free is free!
Toss any solicitation that doesn't clearly identify the company and its street address and phone number. Pay particular attention if you are directed to call a toll-free number for more information about a product or service. Often, when you dial a toll-free number in response to a bogus solicitation, you are secretly connected by a telemarketer or sales agent to a pay-per-call 900 number. In that case, you are paying to listen to a sales pitch for a product, service, prize, contest, or sweepstakes.
Toss any solicitation that looks like a government document and suggests contest winnings or unclaimed assets are yours for a small fee. The government doesn't solicit money from citizens.
Toss any solicitation for a "prepaid" or "special" deal with a nominal monthly "processing fee." You'll save yourself years of monthly payments for products or services you no longer want or could pay less for elsewhere.
Toss any solicitation that asks for your bank account or credit card account number.
If you're tempted to send any money for a product or service that's being touted through the mail — and it's a company you've never heard of — take your time. Check out the company — or the offer — with the Attorney General or Better Business Bureau in your state and the state where the company or organization is located. This is not foolproof, though. There may be no record of complaints if a company is too new or if it has changed its name.
Watch out for unsolicited checks that, when cashed, sign you up for products or services you may not want or need.
Government Look-Alike Mail
The brown envelopes looks official
Messages such as "Important Notice," “Official Business," or "Open Immediately"
Beware of deceptive solicitations or requests for political causes
That brown envelope in your mail box looked so official you thought it was from a government agency. Even the name, the return address and seal looked official. Such mailings can be deceptive and confusing, and are sometimes illegal. They typically contain sweepstakes solicitations or requests for donations to political causes.
Official-looking mailings the Postal Inspection Service has seen in the past include one from the "FBI"--actually, Fountains Bureau of Invitations--which turned out to be an invitation to attend a high-pressure sales pitch for a real estate development. To make the mailing look even more authentic, messages such as "Important Notice," “Official Business," or "Open Immediately" are often hand-stamped or printed on the envelopes.
The problems caused by these look-alike mailings led to the passage of the Deceptive Mailings Prevention Act of 1990. This law, Title 39, United States Code, Sections 3001(f) and (g), places certain restrictions on these look-alike mailings. Such mailings are no longer allowed, unless:
The entity actually has a government connection, approval or endorsement;
The mail matter and its outside wrapper bear a notice prescribed by the U.S. Postal Service which disclaims such connection, approval, or endorsement; or
The mail matter is contained in a publication purchased or requested by the addressee.
If you are uncertain about a mailing, carefully read the material inside the envelope. If the mailer is not being totally deceptive, it should become clear whether the mailing is a deceptive government look-alike mailing from a private organization not connected with any government agency or program.
Wills, Gifts and Charitable Bequests Used in Nigerian Scam Letters
Nigeria or another foreign country
Look for misspellings
Appeals to emotion or “good vs evil”
Beware of giving your checking account or bank routing number
DO NOT respond
Any personal information you give will be used to defraud you
Example of a Nigerian style scam which is being sent to charitable religious organizations.
AMBASSADOR DEINDE FERNANDEZ Subject: 1 Chronicles 29:3-5 12/29/2000
ATTN: GENERAL OVERSEER
Dearest beloved, Grace to you and peace from God our Father and Lord Jesus Christ, Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the father of mercies and God of all, comforter who comforts us in all our tribulations, that we may be able to comfort those who are in any trouble, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. For as the sufferings of Christ abound in us, so our consolation also abounds through Christ.
It is superfluous for me to write to you about the importance of giving cheerfully, He who sows sparingly will also reap sparingly and he who sows bountifully will also reap bountifully. As I purposeth in my heart, not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver and I know God is able to make all grace, abound towards me 2 Corinthians 9:6-8.
Let him who is taught the word share in all good things with him who teaches Galatians 6:6 let us do good to all, especially to those who are of the household of faith. When He ascended on high, He led captivity captive and gave gifts to man" (One Church many parts)
Ambassador Deacon Deinde Fernandez is my name. I am the U. N. permanent representative in the Central African Republic (Zones) Through the goodness of Lord Almighty I own a 340 square Kilometer Diamond mine in Angola and a number of Crude Oil wells in some places. I have course to be glad for this goodness for my person and have decided to testify his goodness by dedicating this token sum of One Million Five Hundred Thousand U.S. Dollars ($1.5m US Dollars) for his kingdom investment through your ministry.
Hebrew 6 tells me to be faithful because God is faithful: verse 10 tells me that for God is not unjust to forget your work and labor of love which you have shown toward his names in that you have ministered to the saints and do minister:
Verse15 tells me "and so after he had patiently endured, he obtained the promise. Brethren, I fear God and l intend to keep my word. "When you make a vow to God do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools; pay what you have vowed ? Better not to vow than to vow and not pay Ecclesiastes 5:4-5.
Your good self and ministry is nominated to be the beneficiary of this gesture after a seasoned prayers and fasting of the prayer warriors and the general overseer of my parish Pastor Ayo Oritsejefor of Word of Life Bible Church Worldwide.
At the end of last year's dedication services, it was however ordained for me to pick up this challenge as a vow to His service in His kingdom investment, I have also purpose to use the remaining part of my life for His work after 75 years on earth, to this end Brethren your prayers are highly needed for this purpose.
As soon as your reply is received to this offer, the swift code number of the sum shall be forwarded or release to you immediately. The funds are already lodged with Omega Bank Plc and the managing Director's name is MR. DAVID OVIE, his direct lines are 00234-1-7742813 he has been advised accordingly.
I will want to come for a thanksgiving and dedication of this sum to His kingdom, with my pastor and two elders of my ministry together with my family.
BEST REGARDS YOUR IN HIS SERVICE AMB. D.D. FERNANDEZ
Re: CHURCH DONATION
Calvary greetings in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. I am former Mrs Fatima Aisha Alamin, now Mrs Christiana Alamin, a widow to late Sheik Mohammed Alamin.
I am 74 years old, I am now a new Christian convert suffering from long time cancer of the breast and from all indications that my condition is really deteriorating and is quite obvious that I won't live more than six months because the cancer stage has gotten to a very bad stage.
My Late husband was killed during the Gulf war and at that period of our marriage, we couldn't produce any child. My late husband was very wealthy and after his death, I inherited all his business and wealth.
The doctor has advised me that I may not leave for more than six months so I now decided to divide part of this wealth and to contribute to the development of the church in Africa, America, Europe and Asian countries.
The mission which will no doubt be tasking had made me to relocate to Nigeria in Africa where I live presently. I selected your church after visiting the website and prayed over it. I am willing to donate the sum of $10,000,000 Million US Dollars to your Ministry for the development of your Church and also for the less privileged.
Please note that the fund is lying in a Security Company in London, therefore my lawyer will file an application for the transfer of the money in the name of your Ministry.
Lastly, I honestly pray that this money when transferred to your account, will be used for the said purpose because I have come to find out that wealth acquisition without Christ is Vanity upon Vanity.
If you have to die says the Lord, keep fit and I will give you the crown of life. May the Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Love of God and the Full fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you. I wait your urgent response.
Yours in Christ.
Christiana Aisha Alamin
4A George Close
Magazine Subscription Scams
Beware of "free", “paid" or "special" magazine subscriptions
DO NOT verbally agree to order unless you really want the magazine
Be sure you know total cost and length of subscription
Beware of telephone sales pitches for "free," "pre-paid" or "special" magazine subscription deals. An impulse purchase could leave you with years of monthly payments for magazines you may not want or could buy for less elsewhere. What's more, in some states, you're legally obligated to pay for a subscription once you verbally agree to it.
Of course, thousands of consumers buy magazine subscriptions from legitimate telemarketers every year. Yet, according to the Federal Trade Commission, some unscrupulous salespeople trick consumers into paying hundreds of dollars for multi-year subscriptions.
Sales techniques vary. The FTC says consumers should question approaches that feature:
Salespeople who encourage you to buy without giving you your total costs. For example, a salesperson may offer magazines for just a few dollars a week. That could sound like a bargain - until you do the math. You could end up paying hundreds of dollars over several years for subscriptions that sell elsewhere for less.
Salespeople who tell you magazines are "free" or "pre-paid" for you and that you'll be charged only a "processing fee." The fee may be more than the retail price of the magazine subscription.
Salespeople who don't identify themselves as such or who may not give you the name of their company. They may lead you to believe they represent magazine publishers, or that they're calling for reasons other than selling subscriptions.
If You're Called
Be skeptical when someone tries to sell you a "bargain" or offers you a "free" subscription on the phone. Ask questions. If you don't get answers that they're willing to back up in writing, consider doing business elsewhere. Ask:
How long does the subscription last - one year, two, more?
How will I be billed? Will you debit my checking account or credit card? When - monthly, annually?
How many magazines will I get and when - monthly, bi-monthly, quarterly?
What's the total yearly cost of each magazine? What's the total package price?
What are my cancellation rights? Get them in writing before you agree to buy. The salesperson may not be required to tell you about the company's cancellation policy unless you ask.
Compare the costs they're quoting to regular magazine subscription rates.
Be careful what you say on the phone to the seller. In some states, your verbal agreement to buy obligates you to pay. Frequently, the salesperson tape records the conversation, perhaps claiming it's for your protection. Later, the company may use the tape to "prove" you agreed to buy the magazines, selected a payment method, and understood the terms of the agreement.
If you don't want a subscription, and you don't want to be called again, tell the caller to put you on the company's "do not call list." If the company calls again, hang up. It's breaking the law. Report it to your state Attorney General and the FTC.
The Telemarketing Sales Rule
The FTC's Telemarketing Sales Rule requires telemarketers to make certain disclosures and prohibits them from lying. It gives you the power to stop telemarketing calls you don't want and gives state law enforcement officers the authority to prosecute fraudulent telemarketers who operate across state lines.
Some tips to keep in mind when you get a telephone sales pitch for magazine subscriptions:
The caller must promptly identify the seller and the purpose of the call. If the offer includes the promise of prizes or gifts, the sales pitch for the magazines must come first. If it doesn't, hang up. The caller is breaking the law.
If you ordered magazines over the phone once, you may be called again. Although you may think the call is about customer satisfaction, chances are it's about renewals and additional subscriptions. Listen carefully to the offers to make sure you understand the terms.
You may be called to renew your subscription, but the caller may not represent the publisher. Before you agree to renew, check the expiration date to determine how close it is. It's usually on the mailing label. Or, you may want to call the publisher to verify the expiration date and to confirm that the caller is authorized to renew your subscription.
Ask for a written copy of the contract before you agree to buy any subscription. Read it. Make sure you understand what you'll get, the cost of each magazine and each subscription, and the cost of the entire package.
Keep information about your bank accounts and credit cards to yourself - unless you know who you're dealing with. You may get a letter or postcard soliciting your business, or telling you that you've won a prize or a contest. Often, this is a front for a scam. Instructions tell you to respond to a promoter with certain information. If you give your bank account or credit card number over the phone to a stranger for "qualification," "verification" or "computer purposes," it may be used to debit your account without your permission.
There is no federal law that regulates the cancellation of telephone agreements. Though there are certain state and local laws that require telemarketers to provide a cancellation period, don't agree to buy on the assumption that you can cancel later.
If your state or locality requires a cancellation period, and you want to cancel a subscription you bought on the phone, follow these instructions:
Watch your mail for the sales agreement; it may come in a plain or "junk mail" type envelope. Look for the cancellation terms; cancellation may be allowed only within three days of your receipt of the agreement. The cancellation notice may be hard to find. It could be attached to an inside page of multiple copies of the sales agreement.
Sign the cancellation notice and return it to the proper address. That may be hard to find too, because several addresses may be listed. Keep a copy of the signed cancellation notice for your records. Send the original notice by certified or registered mail, so you have proof of your mailing date.
If you don't receive a written notice of your cancellation right, write your own cancellation notice and mail it to the seller within the required timeframe. Magazine subscription companies usually don't honor verbal cancellations.
When you send the cancellation notice, contact your bank or credit card company to stop any unauthorized payments from your account or to dispute any charges or debits to your account.
The company may tell you that your cancellation request was too late and that you must pay. Check with your state Attorney General to find out what cancellation rights you may have under state law.
If the cancellation period has expired and you paid in full, the company may not be required to refund your money. But if you don't make the appropriate payments on time, you could face dunning notices and calls from collection agencies, threats of legal action, or a bad credit rating.
Not Just by Phone: Other Questionable Sales Approaches
While many unscrupulous subscription sellers rely on the phone to make their pitch, some do business in other ways. For example:
Door-to-door sales: Beware of emotional appeals by someone selling door-to-door. For example, the student selling magazine subscriptions using the appeal that your sale will help him/her get a college scholarship or other such rewards. If you buy from a door-to-door salesperson in your home, and the purchase is more than $25, you're protected under the FTC's Cooling-Off Rule. The Rule gives you three days to cancel your order and receive a full refund. The seller must tell you that you have a right to cancel, and give you a summary of your cancellation rights and two copies of the cancellation form. Ask to see the required cancellation notice before you agree to buy. If the salesperson doesn't have it, don't place an order. The company is breaking the law.
Postcards in the mail: The postcards say nothing about magazine subscriptions but direct you to call a telephone number about a contest, prize or sweepstakes entry. If you call, you may get information about prizes, gifts or other awards - but more than likely, you'll get a sales pitch for magazine subscriptions. According to the law, you never have to buy anything or pay to claim a prize, gift or award.
Phony invoices or renewal notices: The notices come in your mail and look like bills. If you already subscribe to the magazine, check the subscription expiration date. Also check the notice carefully to see if it came from your publisher. If you're not a subscriber and you didn't order any magazines, you're not obligated to pay.
Sweepstakes or Lottery Scams
Ask yourself these questions before you decide to enter a sweepstakes or mail your money in response to a telemarketing offer:
Do I have to pay to receive the "prize" or enter a sweepstakes? You should never have to pay to receive a prize or enter a sweepstakes contest. If you do, it's illegal.
Am I a "guaranteed" winner or told "no risk is involved?" If you're told you're a guaranteed prize winner or that there's no risk involved, be skeptical.
Is the lottery offer from a foreign country? Any lottery that involves a foreign country and is conducted through the mail is illegal.
Charity or sweepstakes--or both? "By returning your entry form, you could be the winner of $20,000 cash! These are charity sweepstakes.” Legitimate charities don't ask for donations in conjunction with a contest. The problem is that many phony charities use names that sound or look like respected organizations.
Do I have to give any personal or financial information? Don't give your financial information--Social Security number, credit card, or bank account numbers--to callers you don't know. If it's a reputable group, this information won't be requested.
Am I pressured into responding right away? Don't be pressured into making an immediate decision. Get all information in writing before you agree to enter a contest, make a purchase, or give a donation.
Characteristics of Telemarketing Fraud Schemes
A telemarketing fraud scheme often begins when you receive a postcard or letter in the mail describing an appealing offer. To take advantage of the offer, you're told to call a 900 number or a toll-free 800 number. When you call, the telemarketer has a convincing sales pitch.
Protect yourself from becoming the victim of such fraud by remembering the following tip-offs, which will help you decide whether to deal with the promoter.
The offer sounds too good to be true. An unbelievable-sounding deal probably is not true.
High-pressure sales tactics. A swindler often refuses to take no for an answer; he has a sensible-sounding answer for your every hesitation, inquiry, or objection.
Insistence on an immediate decision. Swindlers often say you must make a decision "right now," and they usually give a reason, like, "The offer will expire soon."
You are one of just a few people eligible for the offer. Don't believe it. Swindlers often send out hundreds of thousands--and sometimes millions--of solicitations to consumers across the nation.
Your credit card number is requested for verification. Do not provide your credit card number (or even just its expiration date) if you are not making a purchase, even if you are asked for it for "identification" or "verification" purposes, or to prove "eligibility" for the offer. If you give your card number, the swindler may make unauthorized charges to your account, even if you decide not to buy anything. Once that is done, it may be very hard to get your money back.
You are urged to provide money quickly. A crook may try to impress upon you the urgency of making an immediate decision by offering to send a delivery service to your home or office to pick up your check. This may be to get your money before you have a chance to think carefully about the offer and change your mind, or to avoid the possibility of mail fraud charges in the future.
There is no risk. All investments have some risk, except for U.S. Government obligations. And if you are dealing with a swindler, any "money-back guarantee" he makes will simply not be honored.
You are given no detailed written information. If you must send money or provide a credit card number before the telemarketer gives you the details in writing, be skeptical. Do not accept excuses such as, "It's such a new offer we don't have any written materials yet," or "You'll get written information after you pay."
You are asked to trust the telemarketer. A swindler, unable to get you to take the bait with all of his other gimmicks, may ask you to "trust" him. Be careful about trusting a stranger you talk to on the phone.
You are told you have won a prize, but you must pay for something before you can receive it. This payment can either be a requirement to purchase a minimum order of cleaning supplies or vitamins, or it can be a shipping/handling charge or a processing fee. Do not deal with a promoter who uses this tactic.
900 Telephone Number Schemes
Beware of swindlers! In recent years, 900 telephone numbers, in which the caller pays a fee per minute, have been used by television stations to elicit viewer participation and to offer services, such as current weather conditions. But beware of swindlers who want to lure you to call a 900 number without giving you anything in return for your money.
Swindlers may promise you a product or service, such as credit repair or a travel package, but what you actually receive will be quite disappointing. Those with bad credit hoping to receive a credit card by calling a 900 number might receive a list of banks to which they can apply for such a card. Those who are told to call because they're winners in a sweepstakes receive nothing at all. But you'll be even more unhappy with the charges that appear on your phone bill--sometimes $30 or more.
In the past, swindlers have used toll-free 800 numbers to carry out many of the scams; they now promote via 900 numbers. They include phony free prize and free vacation offers, as well as deceptive credit card promotions. They often begin when the swindler sends you a notification in the mail claiming that you have won something for free or have qualified for credit.
Sometimes, when you call a 900 number, you will be required to listen to a long recorded sales pitch. Remember, the longer you are on the telephone, the higher the phone charges will be. To add insult to injury, at the end of the sales pitch, you will often be directed to phone a second 900 number for additional information or to order your product or service. If you call the second 900 number you will then be billed for an additional 900 number telephone call. Remembering the following can help you avoid becoming a victim of 900 number frauds:
Be suspicious when you receive a prize notification or other promotion which asks you to call a 900 number. There is always a charge for a 900 number call.
Never dial a 900 number unless you are absolutely sure of how much you will be charged and are willing to pay it.
Be wary if after dialing an 900 number you hear a message asking you to dial a second 900 number.
If you have never heard of the company making the promotion, check it out with your local Better Business Bureau or consumer protection agency.
Trust your own common sense. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
More Telephone Scams809 area codes are pay-per-call numbers
900 area codes are pay-per-call numbers
Other area codes may become pay-per-call numbers
You make the call, you’re responsible for the bill!
Know the area codes for family and friends
DO NOT return a call to an unfamiliar area code
The 809 scam refers to an innocent person receiving a phone, faxed, email or pager message that asks the recipient to telephone the sender of the message immediately using an 809 area code. The reasons that you might be required to call back are quite varied and may involve you emotionally.
notification of winning a prize
requirement to call to avoid litigation over an outstanding account (which the innocent victim has nothing to do with)
message to call to receive information about a relative who is ill, has died or has been arrested
Once the innocent victim calls the 809 area code number, the victim ends up contacting a person who tries to keep the victim on the line or the victim is met with a long recorded message or even a clever recording that responds to the caller’s voice. In all cases the scam attempts to keep you, the victim, on the line as long as possible. The reason for this is that some of the numbers in the 809 area code (Caribbean) are pay-per-call numbers codes like those in the 900 area code in the U.S. The result is a large long distance bill. The cost per minute has been recorded as high as $25 per minute. The 809 number is not the only area code in the Caribbean anymore and therefore the scam can be used with other numbers. (Remember: If you make the call, you have to pay the bill! So be cautious when you return calls to unfamiliar area codes. When family members travel, be sure to get an emergency number as well as a destination number so you can verify the area code and telephone number.)
If you receive a message with an 809 area code or with any other area code that you do not recognize, simply don’t respond. IF you still want to respond, then contact your local long distance carrier and ask for the rates that would apply in making the call.