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The Top Frauds and Scams

Every year, consumer advocates list the top frauds and scams – and somehow, the following seem to always make the list.

Foreign Money Offers

These letters come from many countries via mail, e-mail, and fax, offering quick money.

The Scam: A “foreign government official” offers you a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.” He will split a huge sum of money with you if you let him “transfer funds” into your bank account. However, this is just a ploy to get you to send your bank account information.

Avoiding It: These letters are always a scam. Ignore and discard them.


Con artists want to catch your personal information online.

The Scam: Con artists send an official-looking email that tells you to “update” or “validate” you billing information. You’re asked to go to a website that looks like he company’s real website. You will be asked to give your Social Security or credit card numbers, passwords, or bank account information. If you provide it, the scammers will use your information for their own fain.

Avoiding It: Never follow the link provided in one of these emails. Instead, contact the company using a telephone number of website address that you know is real. Check your credit card and bank statements to be sure that all the activity is yours. And if you get spam of any kind, forward it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) via email at

Internet Auctions

Though thousands of legitimate transactions take place each day, complaints are on the rise.

The Scam: Goods never arrive, or are less valuable than promised.

Avoiding It: Anytime you buy online, first check the seller’s feedback rating and understand the sale terms, including whether you can get your money back and how much it will cost to ship the item. Know what you’re bidding on, set your top price and stick to it. Pay with a credit card, if possible, or use an escrow service.

Foreign Lotteries

This is another scam that preys on our dreams to be the big winner.

The Scam: A letter or call comes to tell you that you may have already won a big prize. But the next thing they will do is ask for your bank account number, or a check or money order to pay “fees” for processing or taxes.

Avoiding It: Simply ignore this come-on. Any prize that you have to pay to retrieve is no prize. In the U.S. it’s illegal to sell or buy foreign lottery tickets. If you play, you’re violating federal law. If you respond even once, you will get many more offers. Con artists buy and sell “sucker lists”- the names of people that they can convince to give them money.

Work-At-Home Scams

These ads promise a great living for not much work.

The Scam. These ads claim that envelope stuffing, medical billing, or assembly or craft wotk will allow you to make a living. They don’t tell you that there may be up-front charges for materials, training, or other supplies. Many consumers who have responded to these ads have actually lost money.

Avoiding It. Check out the company with your local consumer protection agency, state Attorney General, and the Better Business Bureau. Get in writing what tasks you will have to perform, how you will be paid (salary or commission), who will pay you, when you will get your first paycheck, the total cost of the program, and what you get for your money.

Be careful! It seems that every time we figure out how to avoid one scam, con artists find another way to separate us from our money.