The North America Consumer Protection Investigators and the Consumer Federation of America recently released a report showing the top complaints that consumers had registered with 33 agencies in 21 states. Top among this list were consumer scams.
The Director of Consumer Protection and Privacy at the Consumer Federation has said that many of the newest complaints about fraud were related to solicitations from people who said they were from a utility company, the IRS, a technical support operation or even the victim’s employers.
What the Consumer Federation suggests is that any time you are asked to immediately send money for any reason as this is usually a sign of fraud and you should not do it.
The six biggest consumer scams …
The notification of an inheritance or prize scam
This might be the most common of the consumer scams. It’s where you get an email saying that you have received a prize or inheritance but that you must make a payment before you can receive it. Probably the most notorious of these is the Prince (or wealthy businessman) in Africa who needs your help to get his money out of the country and will pay you hundreds of thousands of dollars for it.
Some of these emails may require you to provide personal information up to and including your Social Security number. If you receive any email in this category, just hit delete. The fact is If you had actually received an inheritance or a special prize you would have been notified via certified letter.
The automobile repair scam
If you take your automobile to a repair shop where the price you’re quoted seems too good to be true, it just might be. Don’t do business with any automobile repair shop unless it uses technicians that have been certified by the National Institute for Automotive Service Excellence. It has a website, www.ase.com where you can get information or find a repair shop where the services it provides have been certified by the Institute. If you are unfortunate enough to run into a problem with an auto repair shop, go immediately to the local agency in your area that enforces county, state and federal consumer laws and ask for help.
It’s always a good idea to put auto repairs on a credit card, especially if it’s a very expensive repair. This gives you protection you won’t have if you use a debit card, a check or cash. For that matter, if the shop insists you pay cash that might be a red flag signaling you to take your business elsewhere.
Here’s another of the 6 most popular consumer scams. You get a call from a debt collector about an old debt you don’t even remember. When this is the case the first thing you need to do is ask the collector to verify the debt and its validity. This means he must be able to tell you the amount of the debt and the name of the creditor. If you doubt the validity of the debt you have 30 days to dispute it. If you don’t, the collector will assume it’s valid.
Second, be sure to check that the statute of limitations has not run out on the debt. All of our states have statutes of limitations that spell out how many years there is before you no longer have any responsibility for repaying a debt. As an example of this, if your state has a five-year statute of limitations on debts and you haven’t made a payment for at least five years, you can’t be forced to repay it.
There is no law that debt collectors are required to provide you with this information. You will need to do some research to learn what the limit is in your state.
If you become sick or injured and fall behind on your mortgage payments and are threatened with foreclosure you will need to see if you would be eligible for a loan modification, which would mean a reduction in your monthly payments. You can get more information on this topic at www.makinghomeaffordable.gov.
The IRS telephone scam
No IRS agent will contact you by telephone. If you do receive a call from someone posing as an IRS agent, you can be certain it is a scam. Not only does the IRS not contact people by telephone it does not contact them by text messages, email or social media. And it never calls tax payers threatening a lawsuit or an arrest. In the event you do receive one of those telephone calls, it’s a consumer scam. Hang up and make sure you report it to www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact_report_scam.shtml.
The automobile dealer scam
Given the fact that an automobile is probably the second-largest purchase you’ll make during your lifetime; it pays to do your homework before signing a sales contract to buy one. The red flags here are if the dealer salesperson tries to rush you into signing paperwork without giving you enough time to carefully review the terms of the contract or if the terms of the contract are substantially different from what was advertised or what the salesperson had promised you. Another sign of an automobile scam is if the salesperson suggests that you put false information on your finance application such as inflating your income. Putting false information on a contract to get financing is actually a crime, plus you could end up with a contract you can’t afford.
Before you buy a car from a dealer get information about it from the Better Business Bureau and research the car’s value in the Kelly Blue Book or at Edmunds. That way you’ll know if you’re getting a fair deal.
The utility scam
According to the Consumer Federation of America, there has been a large number of complaints from people that have received phone calls from individuals posing as electric or gas company employees threatening to shut off service because of overdue bills. These callers demand immediate payment in the form of a money transfer or prepaid card. If you receive one of these calls, hang up and call your utility as this is definitely a scam.
The immigration scam
Again according to the Consumer Federation of America there have been numerous reports of people calling and offering prepaid immigration services. The only people who can represent immigration parties and provide legal advice are licensed attorneys or non-profits that have been authorized by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services. For more information on immigration issues call 1-800-375-5283 or go to www.ucis.gov.
Internet scams to be focused on phishing (pronounced fishing”) or getting your personal information.
Here’s a short video from Google explaining how to avoid being phished.