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5 Scams to Watch for in 2012

Here's who will try to pick your pocket and how you can stop them

The coming year won't herald the end of the world nor will it be the end of scams and rip-offs. Tight government budgets will also favor con artists. District attorneys without funds to prosecute property crimes such as home burglaries certainly won't be quick to chase down $1,000 you lost to an online scammer. You'll need to protect yourself.

See also: Beware the frauds of fall.

To help you know what to watch out for, I've compiled a hit list of the five most malevolent scams you're likely to encounter in 2012.

The Nigerian Letter

  • Tip-Off: Someone you don't know offers great riches.
  • Tricks: Taking advantage of your kindness, generosity or even greed.
  • Targets: Lonely people in financial distress.

While this advance-fee scam is an oldie-but-goody, new variations are making it much more effective in trapping the vulnerable and unwary. The FTC received reports of more than 100,000 victims from imposter scams and counterfeit check scams in 2010. The questionable plea promising millions of dollars has been replaced by more clever approaches: a foreign business person trying to set up a domestic bank account, a parent trying to raise money to help free a hostage child, or even a U.S. soldier trying to ship home war booty to help his dying mother. No longer anonymous, data mining now allows the scammers to appear more legitimate by personalizing the messages.

Top Scams of 2012 to avoid- two men stealing a dollar sign

Don't let scammers steal from you: Avoid making quick decisions and guard your personal information tightly. — Photo by Beau Lark/Corbis

What you should do: Do not respond. Delete email. Toss paper mail. (Good Samaritans can forward emails to the security departments of any companies or financial institutions mentioned.) Rule of thumb: There's no money for you in Nigeria.



Exploitation by Education

Tip-Off: Their "secret" system makes it easy.

Tricks: They manipulate your emotions while promising great riches or an easy path to success.

Targets: Middle-agers and seniors looking to change careers.

Unemployment woes and job anxiety cause some folks to consider retraining for new careers. Scammers entice the education-seeking unemployed with promises to get rich quick with their secret plan, win a high-paying job with their streamlined schooling, or pass a test for a chance at a swank government gig. Victims often learn little they couldn't find in their local library, but become burdened with thousands of dollars in bogus tuition and fees.

What you should do: Avoid same-day decisions. Any career or education decision deserves at least a day's consideration: research, get referrals and reconsider.

Next: That expert may be trying to rip you off. >>

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