How to avoid getting trapped by scammers
Scam artists are everywhere online, at your front door, and on your TV. Learn how to protect yourself from their often-convincing schemes. Here's a start.
Consumer Fraud Resources
Never give your credit-card or bank-account information to a stranger who's called you or shown up at your door.
Never agree to buy products you haven't seen.
Be suspicious of strangers promising prizes or awards in exchange for participating in a promotion; often those prizes don't exist.
Never give your credit-card or bank-account number to a stranger over the phone.
Charities and paid solicitors who solicit more than $25,000 annually must be registered with the state licensing division. Before donating money, consumers should go to the Secretary of State website information including the charity's registration information, disclosure of any fraud violations or convictions and financial statements.
Before responding to a request for money, consumers should be familiar with the organization and/or request written information before giving. You can search for registered charities and paid solicitors, and review financial statements on the Secretary of State's website listing registered charities, and check out the charity at give.org, the Better Business Bureau site.
Home repair fraud
Fraudulent home-repair contractors typically solicit business by going door-to-door with offers of a special one-time price on siding, window repair or replacement, and require up-front payment.
Never allow an uninvited contractor into your home for an inspection.
Refuse to be pressured into immediately hiring a contractor.
Get bids from at least three different licensed contractors if a home-repair job will cost more than $500.
Before hiring a contractor, require a written contract detailing when work will begin, the quality and type of all materials to be used, and a completion date, plus a schedule of partial payments to be made as the work is completed to your satisfaction.
Current scams: e-mailed notices of "delivery failure" contain a virus that can lift personal information and damage your computer; any notice that a sweepstakes, lottery or other prize that requires money to be paid upfront; and fake money- order checks (especially money orders over the legal $1,000 maximum)
Mortgage-relief scammers target homeowners cash-strapped people who want to refinance their mortgage, or whose homes already are in default promising to negotiate a loan modification to save the house.
Instead, the scammers send homeowners densely worded contracts with small print that redirects mortgage payments to the scammers, with a claim that once the house is in foreclosure, the scammers will try to negotiate a better loan arrangement.
In the past five years, the Federal Trade Commission has filed 25 cases against people representing mortgage-relief services, with hundreds more cases filed with state attorney generals' offices.
Under the Mortgage Assistance Relief Services (MARS) Rule, it's illegal for companies to collect any fees until a homeowner has received a written offer of relief from his or her lender, and then accepted it. That means even if you agree to have a company help you, you don't have to pay until it gets you the result you want.
Unsolicited product/ negative-option fraud
A negative-option plan delivers and bills for products you did not order but still received. It's your right to refuse to accept delivery. You are not obliged to return unsolicited products, which legally are deemed gifts.