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Too good to be true?: Avoid falling victim to common scams

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Posted: Monday, October 26, 2009 12:00 am

The key to not being the victim of a scam is to recognize one when you see or hear it. If an offer is too good to be true, it is probably a scam.

Here is a list of the most common scams that criminals pitch to people:

Credit-related schemes: You are promised a credit card regardless of credit history, for an advance fee. Or you are promised credit card protection or credit repair services, also for a fee. You pay, but the service is never delivered.

Magazine sales scams: You are offered a magazine subscription at a very low price by someone who claims to work for the magazine company. The price ends up being much higher, or the magazine is never delivered.

Overpayment scams: You advertise something you want to sell and a buyer offers to purchase it. The buyer sends a check for more than the asking price and asks you to wire back the difference. You do, but later the buyer's check bounces.

Work-at-home scams: Advertisements promise big earnings for people to work at home. You send a check for training or materials and receive a kit with cheap craft materials and discover there are no clients to pay for your work.

Vacation/travel fraud: You accept an offer for a free or very cheap travel package, but end up paying hidden costs, such as reservation fees or taxes, or listening to a high-pressure sales pitch for a timeshare or club membership.

Phishing: You get an e-mail or pop-up message that says your account must be updated immediately or it will be closed. You click on a link to a Web site that looks like it belongs to your bank or other institution and update your personal identifying information. You soon discover you are a victim of identity theft.

Nigerian money scam: You are contacted by someone from Nigeria and offered millions of dollars if you will transfer money from a foreign bank to your bank account for safekeeping. When you agree, you are asked to pay a huge transfer fee or legal expenses but receive no money.

Prize and sweepstakes scam: You are told that you have won a fabulous prize but must buy something or pay taxes up-front in order to claim the prize. The prize is a cheap trinket, worth far less than the money you paid to claim it.

Foreign lotteries scam: You are offered tickets to enter foreign lottery and send money, but either the lottery doesn't exist or the tickets never arrive. It is illegal to promote a foreign lottery by telephone or mail in the United States.

Pyramids and multilevel marketing: For a fee, you are promised big profits in exchange for recruiting new members. Plans that promise profits for recruitment of members rather than for selling goods and services are illegal and will eventually collapse.

Scholarship scams: A company guarantees scholarship money for an upfront fee, but it only helps locate scholarships rather than awarding them.

Charity scams: A natural disaster is dominating the news and you get a letter, e-mail or phone call asking you to donate funds to help the victims. You send money, but the victims never receive your donation or receive only a tiny portion — the rest goes to cover administrative costs.

Bogus merchandise sales: You purchase something advertised for sale on the Internet or through a telemarketing call. The merchandise received is either inferior or a counterfeit product.

Telephone slamming: Your telephone service is switched from your current company to another one without your knowledge or permission. This can happen you are deceived into agreeing to switch your service by entering a contest and not reading the fine print, which authorized the switch.

Any comments, questions or advice for Behind the Badge can be e-mailed to Jeanie Biskup at; mailed to Lodi Police Department, 215 W. Elm St., Lodi, CA 95240; or asked by phone at 333-6864.

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