After seeing numerous victims of ruthless con artists each year, I encourage everyone to become a more educated consumer. Tough scams take infinite forms, there are basic principles underlying all of them. Knowing the common danger signals and ways to defend yourself can save you time, money and frustration.
Be alert for these red flags:
• A deal that sounds much better than any being advertised by firms you know to be legitimate – offers that are “too good to be true”
• A promoter who is not based locally, provides no telephone number and uses a P.O. box or PMB (Private Mail Box), rather than a full street address, or insists on communicating only through e-mail
• A promoter name and/or logo that closely mimics that of a respected brand or business
• Pressure words, such as “urgent,” “today only” or a “final deadline,” sprinkled throughout the sales literature
• High-pressure threats or harassment, either in writing, during a phone call, in an e-mail message or in a personal contact
• A request to wire transfer payment. Even if they send a check to cover the payment, the check ends up being counterfeit and you get to repay the bank once it is returned.
• Immediate request or demand for a check, money order or cash to be picked up by a courier or to be sent to a mail drop or P.O. box
• Vague answers or none at all to key questions you ask about the offer
• Insistence that you finalize a deal orally or provide personal financial information (such as your Social Security number or credit card number), without a written contract or other documentation in writing.
Be your own best protector. Even with all the consumer protection agencies and laws on the books, you must protect yourself.
The Better Business Bureau offers these tips:
• Take your time deciding; be firm in the face of pressure.
• Protect your privacy. Provide personal information only if you know who is collecting it, why, and how it will be used.
• Read before you sign. Fully understand the contract, and make sure it matches what the salesperson told you.
• Don’t believe it just because you saw it on the Internet. Obtain the company’s physical address and phone number and check the company out with your Better Business Bureau.
• If asked to purchase goods sight unseen, compare the prices and warranties with those offered by local firms.
• If someone comes to your door offering a deal, understand that many reputable companies are too busy servicing their existing customers to go door-to-door offering today-only deals.
Many consumers who fall victim to con artists are too embarrassed to come forward, but we must all realize that these shysters are professionals and that they make their living from scamming.
Being a victim is nothing to be embarrassed by, but it is an opportunity to warn other consumers to be on the lookout for the perpetrators and possibly help authorities apprehend them.