March 12, 2009
The National Consumer Protection 2009 website Nuts & Bolts: Tools for Today's Economy provides information to help people get the most for their money, whether they are trying to stretch their paychecks, find a fix for a spotty credit history, or tell the difference between a real deal and a potentially fraudulent product or service.
"In these challenging economic times, consumers need to be especially wary of scams aimed at exploiting people's fears about the economic downturn," said Richard Svobodny, Acting Attorney General. "As a prosecutor in Alaska for over 30 years, I am all too aware of how adept criminals can be at taking advantage of people's fears and vulnerabilities. But the good news is that education and awareness go a long way in preventing consumer fraud. NCPW is a good reminder for consumers to educate themselves in order to avoid scams and to make smart choices in the marketplace," Svobodny added.
Some examples of scams aimed at financial fears include:
1) Debt elimination/reduction scams. Businesses may claim they can reduce or eliminate credit card or other debt, but they may charge high fees, fail to pay creditors as promised, or do other things that put you in a worse financial position. If you need help with debt problems, take time to seek out a legitimate credit counseling organization.
2) Mystery shopping scams. Classified ads or unsolicited emails may claim you can make thousands of dollars a week working at home by evaluating a business as a mystery shopper. The scammer sends a check and instructs the victim to withdraw funds to make purchases and then, after deducting a "commission," to wire the remaining funds back. The check is fake, but the victim has withdrawn real money and sent it to the scammer. When the bank determines the check was fake, the victim of the scam is responsible for the funds. Fake checks are also used in lottery scams, internet auction scams, and rental scams. These checks look real, but they are just a way to steal your money.
3) "Phishing" scams. Thieves use phony e-mails and web sites to extract personal financial information like social security numbers, passwords, and account numbers. The e-mail may appear to be from your bank or other financial institution with a warning that your account has been compromised and you need to provide a password or other personal information. Remember that legitimate businesses have your account information; they don't need to call you or email you for it. New twists on the phishing theme include "vishing" (or "voice fishing") and "smishing" (text messages to a cell phone).
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