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AARP Bulletin

Scams to Avoid

Check out our month-by-month guide to popular scams and cons

Did You Know?

Did you know that certain scams are more likely to occur during certain times of the year? Here's your month-by-month guide to scams, adapted from the AARP 2014 Almanac.

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January: Diets

Losing weight is the most popular New Year's resolution. But it is also the most likely to get you ripped off: The Federal Trade Commission says that more people are defrauded through weight-loss scams such as "miracle" supplements, "easy" exercising gizmos and "breakthrough" diets than any other product category it monitors.

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February: Repairs

Traveling crooks target retiree-rich communities in warm-weather states like Florida and Arizona. Among the most common cons: self-described utility workers or contractors who show up unannounced and ask to enter your home, claiming "the condo association sent me."

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March: Ribbon Rip-Offs

Breast cancer charities raise $6 billion each year on research for a cure. Unfortunately, anyone — scammers included — can use that familiar pink ribbon to brand merchandise or solicit contributions. And some "breast cancer" organizations devote only pennies of every dollar they collect to the cause; four, in fact, were among 50 recently deemed "America's worst charities." So before you give, check such websites as Give.org or CharityNavigator.org.

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April: Subscriptions

Take a close look at those subscription invoices in your mailbox. Hit with phony renewal notices, consumers nationwide are paying for newspapers and magazines they'll never receive. The tip-off to the rip-off: an offer to start or renew a subscription at a hard-to-believe rate. If you're asked to send a payment to a company you don't recognize, call the publisher to verify the offer is legit.

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May: Condos

Looking for a choice vacation rental at below-market rates? Beware: Some of those best-deal condos, mountain retreats or beachfront places may not really exist. Stick with bona fide real estate websites or listing agents. And never, ever make any kind of payment via a wire transfer.

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June: Security

Summer means open windows, vacations and more home burglaries. It's also prime season for door-to-door scammers whose offer of a "free security inspection" is their way of casing your home for a possible later burglary. Bottom line: Unless you initiate a sales call, don't let anyone into your house. Scammers may produce forged identification. Many certified installers are listed at alarm.org.

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July: Free Money

Surprised by an unexpected check? If the windfall comes with a string attached — you have to forward some portion of the money elsewhere, typically by wire transfer — it's almost certainly bogus. Be especially suspicious of amounts just shy of $5,000; scammers know that deposits above that amount are subject to longer bank holding periods.

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August: Puppies

National Dog Day is Aug. 26, and if you're among those who love man's best friend, scammers may be out to get you. Amid the legitimate ads for puppies in newspapers and online websites are plenty of solicitations for stolen animals, or for ones that don't exist. The rule: Make sure the seller is legitimate before you agree to buy (or put down a deposit). Otherwise you could find yourself dealing with a dognapper.

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September: Home Repair

Beware of the "woodchuck." This home improvement huckster usually starts with an offer to trim trees. Soon the woodchuck points out additional problems, returning day after day to take care of never-ending (and often needless) repairs. These fly-by-day fraudsters sometimes request payment in advance to buy materials for such jobs as roof repair or driveway sealing — but then, with your cash in hand, never return. Remember: Most reputable contractors are too busy to seek business by knocking on your door.

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October: Taxes

You're looking for year-end tax breaks. And fraud-minded financial "advisers" are looking for you. Beware of unsolicited offers and invitations that aim to steer you into high-commission investment products (be especially suspicious, for example, of the "free lunch" seminar). Assume a scam when investments are touted as "guaranteed," "risk-free" or "secret." To make sure that you're dealing with a legitimate investment adviser, visit FINRA's BrokerCheck, at www.finra.org/Investors/ToolsCalculators/BrokerCheck.

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November: Veterans

Scammers target both active-duty personnel (for their steady paychecks) and veterans (for their benefits and nest eggs). Remember: If an unsolicited pitch plays on patriotism or military service, it usually comes with sky-high interest rates and hidden fees. And veterans should steer clear of any offers that promise lump-sum cash advances or settlements in exchange for their future pension payments.

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December: Gift Cards

'Tis the season to give — and receive — gift cards. But scams abound, from substitution schemes to sophisticated scan-and-clone techniques in which stolen cards are scanned by a magnetic reader, which can render other cards in the same set useless. Always make sure that a card's packaging hasn't been tampered with and that any peel-off sticker over a code is firmly in place — and get a receipt for the recipient.

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Adapted from the AARP 2014 Almanac.

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