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Scam Alert

Cons That Bloom in the Spring

Protect yourself from these scams

En español | Spring is prime time for several perennial scams: home-improvement con artists who promise low rates on asphalt paving, roof work or garden prep, but don't deliver. Door-to-door solicitors who falsely claim to be collecting for charity or sell subscriptions to magazines that never arrive.

See also: Hands-free pickpocketing.

And after Tax Day, there's an upsurge in bogus e-mails purportedly from the IRS trying to make you reveal personal information or click on links that infect your computer with a dangerous virus.

spring scams

— Richard Ross/Anzenberger/Redux

Notice a trend? These common spring scams hit home, literally.

As the weather improves, your mind and body naturally gravitate toward the outdoors. And as you make vacation plans or head out for everyday chores, scammers are happy to follow, with some less-publicized seasonal schemes like these:

'Free' vacations

The claim: A phone call, postcard or mailed "travel voucher" tells you you've won a free or hugely discounted vacation.

The catch: First you need to provide a credit card number to pay a deposit or service fee.

Do that and the nightmare of your dream vacation begins. In some schemes, the goal is to get you to join an expensive and problem-filled vacation club.

Or your money may actually get you a hotel stay, but the promised beachfront resort is really a one-star facility miles from the ocean. Or your cruise fees don't include charges that are later tacked on and exceed the cost of booking a sea escape the usual way. Or your supposedly free vacation requires you to book a second guest at an inflated price.

Your defense: "Free" means just that — so don't send deposits or service fees. Beware especially of buzzwords such as "vacation offer," "you're eligible to win" or "guaranteed."

And if you're told to phone a number for more details and it begins with an area code of 876, 868, 809, 758, 784, 664, 473, 441, 284 or 246, it's likely a phone scam: Those codes look American, but they're for Caribbean countries and Bermuda. Calls to them typically mean long periods on hold and transfers to rack up long-distance charges of up to $5 per minute. Also beware of 900 area code calls.

Next: The rental rip-off >>

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