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On Your Side

5 Scams to Watch for in 2012

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

Devilish Diagnoses 

  • Tip-Off: They wear two hats.
  • Tricks: They exploit your lack of expertise, trust in authority and critical need.
  • Targets: No one is immune.

Most of us know to be wary of an auto mechanic discovering a previously undetected, but expensive, car repair. We can see he's got personal interest in pointing-out the pricey problem. That same conflict of interest now is appearing more often in other industries. From the hearing specialist who also hawks hearing aids to the financial planner pitching her own brand of mutual funds, consumers are being taken advantage of by exploiters who prey upon their trust.

What you should do: Separate the diagnosis from the product or service deliverer. While it may take more time, the money saved may be worth many times the delay.


Facebook Unfriendlies 

  • Tip-Off: An organization or person you don't know attempts to "friend" you.
  • Tricks: They exploit your trust of the "safe" social-network environment.
  • Targets: Social network users.

Social networking on Facebook, LinkedIn and similar websites is redefining how families and friends stay connected. However, the same walled-off environment of filtered contacts that we've been trained to trust has also led us to let our guard down. Scammers launch topical pages in order to trawl for like-minded social network users. Once "friended," they link the unwary out of the safe environment to an external site where they can be attacked by a virus or pitched scam offers.

What you should do: Do not respond to or "friend" any person or organization that you do not know of from outside of the social network.

Outrageous Requests

  • Tip-Off: They are asking you for information they should already have.
  • Tricks: They use publicly available information to convince you they are legit.
  • Targets: Anyone with a bank or credit card account.

 "Phishing" is what security professionals call attempts to trick computer users into providing personal or financial information. Phishers have jumped off the net and onto the phone lines and cell towers with ruses designed to separate you from your hard-earned dollars. Armed with your name, address and phone number, they call you with requests to "verify" other personal information such as social security number, credit card information and banking data.

What you should do: Give no information. Do not engage in conversation. Tell them any further contact will be reported to police and/or the FBI.

The best defense to any of these scams is to avoid making any quick decisions and to hold on to personal information as if your life depended on it. A good rule-of-thumb in scam prevention is to discuss any financial decision over $500 with a friend or relative, and to take at least 24-hours to mull it over.

Go slowly, act wisely, and you won't be sorry.

Ron Burley is the author of Unscrewed: The Consumer's Guide to Getting What You Paid For.

Also of interest: Try the 'Is It a Scam or Is It Real?' Quiz. >>

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