Avoid becoming a victim of scams and rip-off attempts with some simple but smart tips.

1. The Nigerian letter

In this advance-fee scam, someone unknown to the consumer offers promises of great riches. Lonely people in financial distress are usually targeted by scammers trying to take advantage of kindness, generosity, or greed. While this scam is old, new variations make it more effective in trapping the vulnerable and unwary. The questionable plea promising millions of dollars has been replaced by more clever approaches: a foreign business person trying to set up a domestic bank account, a parent trying to raise money to help free a hostage child, or a U.S. soldier trying to ship home war booty to help his dying mother. Data mining now allows the scammers to appear more legitimate by personalizing the messages. Do not respond to these types of inquiries. Instead, delete any e-mails of this type and throw away any paper mail.

2. Exploitation through education

With this type of scam, fraudsters offer a “secret” system, manipulating the consumer’s emotions while promising riches or easy success. Middle-agers and seniors looking to change careers are usually targeted. Scammers entice the education-seeking unemployed with promises to get rich quick with the secret plan, win a high-paying job with the streamlined schooling, or pass a test for a chance at a nice government job. Victims often learn little they couldn’t find in their local library, but become burdened with thousands of dollars in bogus tuition and fees. Avoid making same-day decisions. Any career or education decision merits research and referrals.

3. Trumped up diagnoses of problems

Here, fraudsters exploit consumers’ lack of expertise, their trust in authority, and any critical need.  Most consumers are cautious when an auto mechanic discovers a previously undetected, but expensive, car repair. The mechanic has personal interest in pointing out the pricey problem. That same conflict of interest now appears in other industries. AARP cited hearing specialists who hawk hearing aids and financial planners pitching a brand of mutual funds as examples of scams exploiting consumers’ trust. Separate the diagnosis from the product or service deliverer.

4. Facebook scams

An organization or person who doesn’t know the consumer may attempt to “friend” consumers via Facebook, exploiting the trust of the “safe” social-network environment. While Facebook keeps people connected, the walled-off environment of filtered contacts that consumers have learned to trust has also led them to a false sense of security that scammers take advantage of. Once “friended,” they link out of the safe environment to an external site where they can attack consumers with viruses or pitched scam offers. Do not to respond to or “friend” any person or organization that you do not know.

5. Phishing

In “phishing,” a false entity asks for information it should already have–if it were the legitimate entity–and targets anyone with a bank or credit card account. Armed with consumers’ names, addresses, and phone numbers, phishers call or e-mail consumers with requests to “verify” other personal information such as Social Security number, credit card information, and banking data.


The best defense to these scams is to avoid making quick decisions and divulging any personal information. Discuss any financial decision over $500 with a friend or relative, and take at least 24 hours to mull it over. Reprinted with permission from the Credit Union National Association.
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