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Swear Off Scammers

Don’t let crooks ruin New Year’s pledges

Credit card caught in fishing hook. Swear Off Scammers.

Scammers are always trying to hook us with new tricks. Going after our New Year's resolutions is their latest ploy. — Marcela Barsse/Getty Images

Aiming for a better you in 2014? Don't let these common New Year's resolutions lead you to benefit scammers instead.

Lose weight. A thinner wallet is all you'll get with products "guaranteeing" results or making specific claims ("lose 30 pounds in a month"). Add fake customer testimonials and "free trials" that end before you even get the product and you've got the top category of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission. And some of the products can actually damage your health.

Better: Eat less and exercise more in a safe and realistic one pound-per-week loss program. Get started at MyPlate.gov.

Help others. Good intentions are great for charity scammers, and schemes bilking the most from older donors involve fake help for police and fire organizations, children, veterans and victims of whatever disaster you've been hearing about in the news.

Before donating, ask for authenticating paperwork and check the group's legitimacy at give.org, guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org. Beware of soundalike names of well-known groups and requests for personal information or credit card numbers over the phone. (Also, don't trust what you see on Caller ID — scammers can manipulate it.) Assume that email solicitations are scams unless you previously provided your address to the group. When donating online, type in the address of the organization's website yourself, rather than relying on links promising to guide you there.

Get a better job. It's tough these days, but don't pay for kits that promise easy money working from home or quick hiring for "previously undisclosed government jobs."

Other signs of job scams: email offers with a noncorporate email account or online postings requesting upfront personal info such as Social Security and financial account numbers. Likewise, beware requests for money to conduct "background checks" or buy "supplies." Watch out also for jobs in which you receive payments and then forward a portion. And, of course, be wary of positions that offer to pay far better than the realistic ranges that you can find at salary.com and glassdoor.com.

Speak Out: Tell us about scams and fraud you've come across

You're more likely to advance through education, networking and help from a reputable employment agency. As for government jobs, apply for free at usajobs.gov.

Make new friends. Be careful if you do it online, where bogus romances cost victims $56 million last year; women 50 and older were the group duped most often by money-requesting cyber sweethearts. Turn away from friendly folks on the phone who say you've won a lottery. And watch out for smooth talkers at "free lunch" seminars touting no-loss investments or no-charge help with paperwork related to benefits and pensions.

The best protection? Make friends the old-fashioned way at face-to-face social gatherings.

Sid Kirchheimer author of Scam-Proof Your Life, writes about consumer and health issues for AARP Media.

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