8 ways to avoid getting conned.

In the language of con artists, you’re a “mark.” And when you fall for one of  their scams, you’re a successful mark. No one wants to hand over money to  thieves, but scam artists are becoming more sophisticated with each passing  technological advance. How can you (or someone you love, like your elderly parents) avoid losing big bucks to a con game? These basics lean heavily on common sense, but also raise a few  points even the most sensible consumer might not consider.

What do almost all victims have in common? They’re ashamed to admit they’ve  been conned. In fact, law enforcement agencies calculate that less than 10% of scam victims file reports when they’re ripped off. The reason is simple: Con artists  choose their marks with as much care as you might the produce at your local  market. They seek out individuals who are gullible, isolated and trusting. If someone tries to interest you in a venture involving money  or property, say, “I’ll discuss this with my lawyer and get back to you.” Then  talk it over with someone you trust.

Experts say to obtain a copy of your credit report once a year to make sure  it’s correct, but did you know it’s also a good place to catch scams? Jay Foley, executive director of the Identity Theft Resource  Center, a nonprofit aimed at ID theft education, says, “If you don’t check your  credit report, it’s the same thing as playing in traffic and hoping you don’t  get hit.” If someone else assumes your identity,  you can often find evidence of the crime there. Look for accounts you didn’t  open.

Scam-proof your communications by taking control of your personal information.  Put your phone numbers (home and cell) on the Do Not Call Registry. Opt out from the sale  or sharing of your personal information by contacting the three credit bureaus,  your state department of motor vehicles, the Direct Marketing Association and  companies with which you do business. Thieves cull your information and use it  to open bogus accounts that can ruin your credit and make your life miserable.

Never do business over the phone,  unless you initiate the call. Here’s why: No matter what your caller ID might  say, you don’t really know who’s on the other end of the line. If you place the call yourself, divulging personal information  isn’t as risky. If you receive a call from someone who claims to be with your  bank, insurance company or some other place where you do business — unless you  recognize the caller — say you’ll call back. That will give you time to make  sure the number is legitimate.

Debit card fraud is expanding and, unlike credit card fraud, your losses can be much more extensive and your money harder to  recover. Some ways to make using a debit card safer include the following:

  • Run your purchases as credit so you don’t have to input your PIN.
  • Always double-check your card when a clerk, cashier or waiter hands it back  to you and make certain it’s the same card you handed over.
  • Be suspicious of people who want to stand too close to you when you’re using  your debit card, particularly when they are using a cellphone. They could be  recording your debit card information with their camera.

Check your accounts frequently — daily if possible. If you see  an unauthorized withdrawal, contact your bank immediately. With a debit card,  the faster you act, the faster you limit your liability.

Social networking can be a great way to keep up with friends and family, but  scammers have found the Internet a gold mine of opportunity. Most of us know not  to click on links in emails from people we don’t know or to acknowledge those  silly get-rich-quick schemes from strangers, but you should never underestimate  a con artist’s creativity. For instance, a recent scam on Facebook involves a  fake game based on the “Twilight” series. Fans are prompted to click on the  link, exposing their personal information to scammers. Best rule of thumb: Be on your guard and never click on links  of unknown origin. Check on them by running a search with the relevant keyword  (in this case, “Twilight”) and “complaint” or “scam.”

Don’t join the thousands who fall victim to online identity theft schemes  each year. Some are as simple as planting a keystroke logger on your computer to  copy your private information, while others involve complicated email  exchanges.

Here are some of the best strategies for avoiding online fraud:

  • Don’t ever respond to emails asking for your account information since they  are almost always fakes.  
  • Never click on links embedded in emails (even a friend or relative can  accidentally pass along a virus). If you must see that funny video, type the URL  directly into your browser.
  • When you decide to purchase from an online merchant, always make certain  that you’re dealing with a reputable site. Check for complaints and never click  on a link; instead, as with email links, type the company’s correct URL into  your browser.
  • Make it a habit to double-check that order forms are secure before  completing them. Instead of the standard “http,” the URL will begin with  “https,” which indicates a secure transmission.
  • Don’t forget to maintain up-to-date, functioning security software and a  firewall.
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