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Tips to avoid 4 common scams in Utah

Published March 7, 2012 7:17 pm

Finances • Bank of American Fork offers tips for Utahns.
This is an archived article that was published on sltrib.com in 2012, and information in the article may be outdated. It is provided only for personal research purposes and may not be reprinted.

The Bank of American Fork wants to help Utahns avoid falling for some of the common scams that crooks use to separate people from their money.

The bank is offering the advice as part of National Consumer Protection Week, which runs through Saturday. The initiative is a coordinated campaign sponsored by government and nonprofit organizations to encourage consumers to make better-informed decisions by educating them about how to protect their privacy, avoid identity theft and steer clear of frauds and scams.

The four recurring scams highlighted by the bank involve mortgage transfer scams, classified or online auction schemes, lottery swindles and mystery shopper ploys.

Mortgage transfer scam • Typical scenario: You get an official-looking letter in the mail stating that your mortgage has been sold, with an address where you are to send future payments. You begin doing so, but within a few months receive collection letters and phone calls suggesting you are behind on your mortgage.

How to avoid: Don't be lulled into a false sense of security by an organization with an official-sounding name. Because having your mortgage sold is not an uncommon occurrence, be sure to check with your original mortgage lender to verify loan transfers. Generally, your loan originator will send you a letter before you are contacted by a new loan servicing company.

Classified and online auction scams • Typical scenario: You post an item for sale on a classified or online auction website and then are contacted by a buyer who represents that they live out-of-state or outside the country. They offer to pay by using a money order or cashier's check made out for significantly more than the sales price to cover shipping costs. You are asked to deposit the check and ship the merchandise, along with the excess check amount. After shipping the item, your bank informs you the check was counterfeit. You've been scammed out of your merchandise, the cost of shipping and the funds returned for overpayment.

How to avoid: Never send money to a buyer. Accept offers only where the buyer pays your exact asking price with cash or through a third-party payment provider, such as PayPal.

Lottery scams • Typical scenario: You receive an email notification claiming you have won a foreign lottery. You are told to contact a claims agent, who asks for personal information, along with copies of your passport and/or driver license to "verify identity." You also may be asked to wire funds to cover insurance, taxes or other fees. Because the agent is a scamster, you'll never get your money, the money you sent in is gone and you've become a victim of identity theft.

How to avoid: Never provide personal information such as passport or Social Security number to strangers or unverified companies. You will never be asked to wire funds for winning a legitimate lottery.

Mystery shopper scams • Typical scenario: You receive an official-looking email or letter from a mystery-shopping company with a check included. The letter instructs you to cash the check and complete a shopping assignment. You are then instructed to send the unspent portion of the check to another mystery (the scamster) via Western Union. When the check does not clear, you are responsible for the cost of the shopping trip and the funds wired.

How to avoid: Do not wire money to companies that have supposedly hired you. Wire money only to people you know and trust. Check the Mystery Shopping Providers Association for a list of legitimate companies.