Consumer Scams: Know When You’re Being Fooled

SPECIAL TO THE REPORTER

AUSTIN — Unfortunately, there will always be scam artists out there. These people are looking to make a few bucks, sometimes much more, on trusting and unsuspecting consumers. Scams aren’t always easy to spot, even for savvy consumers, so remember to do your due diligence and if something seems too good to be true, it most likely is. Below are common consumer scams to be aware of to help ensure they don’t happen to you or someone you love.

Merchandise Fraud

This is often the top consumer complaint, especially with the continuously rising rate of internet shopping. Let’s say you’ve found the perfect product online—one that you’ve been looking for a while and the price is substantially less than anywhere else for an identical product. While very rarely you may find an amazing deal, what happens more often is the product is nonexistent or misrepresented. If you’re ordering from a company or website you’ve never heard of, start by checking the Better Business Bureau (www.bbb.org). Then search for reviews from people who have purchased the same product from that retailer. Lastly, use a credit card for the purchase if at all possible, particularly when buying online or over the phone. If you're victimized and you’ve paid with cash or by check, you could be out of luck. If the order doesn't arrive, you can challenge the purchase under federal credit-card rules. Debit-card purchases offer less protection, although some banks provide additional safeguards.

Fake Checks

This common scheme can occur in many forms, be it a fake check for something you’ve sold or payment for a “work from home” or “make fast cash” opportunity. Bogus checks can be used to pay for something you're selling, especially through local sites such as Craigslist. It could be for a smaller amount if you’re selling a piece of furniture or a larger amount if you’re selling something like a car. While these checks may look official and certified, there’s no guarantee that’s the case. It’s always best to ask for payment in cash or a wire transfer if it’s for a larger amount of money. If you do accept a check, contact the institution whose name appears on it before finalizing the exchange with the buyer. If you deposit a fake check, it will bounce and you’ll be on the hook with your bank to settle the fee.

Phishing and Identity Theft

Scammers often use emails, phone calls or other methods of communication to trick people into revealing their passwords, credit card information or Social Security numbers, in addition to other personal information that can be used to steal identities, open credit lines or other damaging activities. Never respond to an email or phone call asking for financial passwords or other personal information, no matter how urgent it seems. Instead, contact your bank or the business that made the request to verify it is legitimate. These institutions will never ask for this type of information via email, no matter how credible it looks. Also, never click on hyperlinks in suspicious email messages and keep your computer's antivirus and anti-phishing software up to date.

Advance-Fee Loans

This is one of those “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is” situations. This involves a company promising to get you a loan or credit card even if you have bad or zero credit. However, after paying the required fee, you either never hear from the company again or you’re offered a debit or stored-value card. You will never be asked to pay an advance fee for a loan, even if it's for "insurance," "processing” or "paper work." Fun fact: It's illegal for a company doing business by phone to promise a loan and require a fee before it's delivered. Your credit score is important when it comes to loans and credit cards so if a company says it doesn’t matter, that’s a red flag.

The Grandparent Scam

The elderly are often targeted by scam artists who view them as easy targets. This scheme works by a scammer, perhaps someone who identifies himself as a grandson or nephew, saying he needs help because of an accident or arrest in a foreign country so money needs to be wired immediately. The bottom line is don't give money to anyone without verifying his or her identity. If you get a call from a friend or relative asking for help, politely hang up and call the person's home or cell phone number to find out if the call truly came from this person and if the emergency if real. If you’re unable to reach the person, call another relative or close friend to confirm the story.

Phony Charities

Be it an email or phone call urging you to support a charity that tugs at your heartstrings, never immediately respond to this type of solicitation. Some charities are outright frauds and others do little of what they say they do. Instead, first check with the major charity watchdogs—the American Institute of Philanthropy (www.charitywatch.org), the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance (www.give.org) and Charity Navigator (www.charitynavigator.org)—to ensure it is legit. Many con artists use names similar to legitimate charities so ensure the name is exact. Also, organizations like the Red Cross will provide a list of charities that need help during disasters.

Sweepstakes Scams

Everyone wants to win a big prize. However, sweepstakes mailings or prize-related phone calls asking for an advance payment to cover taxes, shipping and handling, or other incidental costs of processing or delivering your fabulous prize are not real. You’ll find that nothing is ever mailed to you. Also, by law, buying services or merchandise can't increase your odds of winning a sweepstakes so just say no.

About the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT)

Formed in 1974, the Independent Bankers Association of Texas (IBAT) represents Texas community banks. The Austin-based group is the largest state community banking organization in the nation, with membership comprised of more than 2,000 banks and branches in 700 Texas communities. Providing safe and responsible financial services to all Texans, IBAT member bank assets range in size from $10 million to more than $20 billion with combined assets statewide of nearly $165 billion. IBAT member banks are committed to supporting and investing in their local communities.

The above is provided by the Independent Bankers Association of Texas as a public service. This information is provided with the understanding that the association is not engaged in rendering specific legal, accounting or other professional services. If specific expert assistance is required, the services of a competent profession should be sought.