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Scam Alert

Avoiding the Babysitter Payment Scam

Overpayment checks will bounce and leave you on the hook

No matter what the con, here's what you should know:

• Overpayment scammers hide behind the anonymity of email and text messages. Be suspicious of any business relationship in which you can't talk with or meet the other party. Honestly, what reasonable parent would entrust children to a stranger? And pay in advance?

• Never deposit a check for more than an agreed-on amount and do not follow instructions to forward some portion of it — especially via MoneyGram or Western Union. Be even more suspicious when correspondence is riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, signs of a foreign-based scammer.

• To be entirely safe concerning any deposited check, contact your bank to find out when the funds from it have been collected. Hearing that a check has cleared could merely mean that your bank has credited your account, fronting you the money pending collection from the other bank, and will take it back if the check's bad.

• Scammers can print phony checks with materials that are readily available in any office supply store. So treat any unexpected check with suspicion. Contact the issuing bank to verify its authenticity. If the check has a phone number, don't use it — it could put you through to the crook posing as a bank rep. Instead, look up the bank's number yourself.

• When corresponding with a person who is proposing to hire you based on a job posting, do an online search to try to confirm the person's name, phone number, address and company.

With a Google search of "Nancy Wagner babysitting," Scam Alert quickly learned that in the weeks before Palzet was targeted, several other people got hit by a scammer using that name.

Other clues to this con: The phone number that the scammer provided is in the Baltimore area, not a foreign country. (Not surprisingly, "Wagner" did not return a voice mail that Scam Alert left requesting comment.) And the address given for a supposed toy store is actually for a law firm.

• When selling things online, insist that buyers use an escrow service or online payment service instead of sending a personal check.

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

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