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Scam Alert

Knock, Knock. Who's Really There?

Ask questions and check credentials before you open your wallet

Their badges may look authentic but remember: Any crook with a printer and laminate machine can produce convincing counterfeits. So don't let anyone into your house until you've verified the visit with a call to the utility company.

Often the goal is burglary, so be especially suspicious when "utility workers" arrive in pairs—one diverts you while the other steals. The same applies to duo woodchucks; one may lure you outdoors while the other does a quick inside job.

Fundraising fraudsters: With school back in session, a number of teenagers go door-to-door with claims they're raising money for team uniforms or school-sponsored charities. Some ask for cash, checks or credit card donations. Others say their fundraising depends on your buying a magazine subscription or some other product.

Some of these kids are legit, some aren't. But no matter what the charitable plea, it's easy to authenticate the sponsoring school or charity with a phone call or on the Internet. If you find it worthy, then mail a check. If door-to-door solicitors don't have materials for review, the smart money is that it's a scam.

Beware of charities you have never heard of, especially those claiming to raise money for wounded vets, police and fire departments, sick or handicapped kids, or the victims of a recent disaster. Those causes are emotional hot buttons for many but are often associated with fake charities.

You may also like: Protect yourself from telemarketing fraud. >>

Sid Kirchheimer is author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.

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