Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New Colors in Fall Scams

Like dry Autumn leaves, financial scams are falling onto our front lawns. The top of the latest pile: bogus medicare discount drug offers, staged-car accidents and, of course, all-weather phishing scams.

Tips for Avoiding Scams:

* Vet all business and service offers. Get referrals from people you trust.

* Review your credit report at least once a year

* Guard your financial digits. Don't leave purses, checkbooks, wallets or credit card receipts in cars.

* Shred credit card offers. Don't treat unsolicited credit card pitches like the rest of your junk mail.

For more details here's a report from Consumer Credit Counseling Services:

In the last 12 months, more than 9 million Americans were victims of Identity theft. According to the Federal Trade Commission, consumers reported $680 million dollars in losses in 2005 due to fraud; many victims never file a complaint. Internet related complaints, including on-line auctions, foreign money offers, and business opportunities have continued to rise, and email or internet contact was reported in more than half of all fraud complaints.

"We lock our car doors when we go into a store and we store our valuables in a safe place, but most consumers don't take the necessary basic steps to protect themselves from becoming victims of fraud," said Jessica Cecere, president of Consumer Credit Counseling Service of Palm Beach County and the Treasure Coast. "It is much easier to avoid becoming a victim of fraud than it is to repair the damage done by thieves."

One of the most widespread areas of fraud is identity theft, where a person uses another's financial information to apply for loans, credit cards or leases, and can cause that person great financial strain. Florida ranked sixth among states for the number of identity theft cases reported in 2005. Another well-know scam includes deception by abusive lenders who target homeowners and can put their homeownership status in serious danger. CCCS cautions consumers to be award of payday loan scams and Nigerian money offer scams that often sound too good to be true, and are often facilitated through emails.

Senior consumers are often vulnerable to fraud. A common type of insurance fraud involves staged car accidents. Predators may be charismatic salespeople who utilize door-to-door sales tactics to bilk people out of their life savings. The selling of phony Medicare drug discount cards has also been on the rise.

"The key to protecting yourself is being diligent about knowing who you share information with," said Cecere. "Don't be swayed by offers that seem too good to be true-they usually aren't."

CCCS offers some tips to help consumers resist falling for a scam:
Know what's in your credit report. Consumers have free access to their reports through Review your report regularly and dispute incorrect information.

Protect your personal data. Be careful about who you share information with and be sure you know who you are talking with. Refrain from sharing your social security number or other financial information with someone over the phone, especially if you did not initiate the call. Don't print your social security number on your checks. Never leave your wallet, purse, checkbook or credit card receipts in your car. It is not difficult for a determined their to piece together information to assume your identity. Shred offers for credit cards and other mail with personal information.

Get referrals from friends and family for businesses. Call the Better Business Bureau to see if there are any complaints on record before you do business with a company for the first time. And don't pay in full up front for a job-it is customary to pay a deposit prior to the job starting and a final payment upon satisfactory completion.
Never respond to email requesting you to verify information. These often look like legitimate emails and may even have the logo of your financial institution, but they are not. Thieves are "phishing" for information they can use to steal from you.

Report any suspicious activity. Some consumers are embarrassed that they fell for a scam and don't report it. If you feel you have been the victim of a scam, contact the three credit bureaus: Equifax (800-525-6285), Experian (888-397-3742); and Transunion (800-680-7289) and ask them to put a fraud alert on your account to protect you if anyone tries to use your name to get a line of credit. Also notify the Social Security Administration (800-269-0271). Report the fraud to your local police department and also to the Federal Trade Commission.

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