It can be hard to resist. A phone call from a charity seeking desperately needed
funds for flood victims, endangered species, or the homeless. A postcard claiming
you've won an amazing sweepstakes prize if you'll just call and send an
"administrative fee." Or an investment offer giving you an "exclusive" chance to earn
potentially enormous profits.
But Resist You Must. These are just a few examples of the kinds of fraudulent
schemes Americans run across every day. Experts estimate that consumers lose
more than $100 billion annually to a broad assortment of frauds, cons, and scams.
Fraudulent telemarketing and direct mail appeals account for $40 billion of this total.
Alarmingly, the Elderly Are a Major Target for con artists, especially
phony fundraisers and hucksters hawking bogus investment and insurance schemes.
Whether they are widowed and lonely, eager to help others, or merely intrigued by a
"once in a lifetime" opportunity, increasing numbers of older Americans are falling for
sophisticated and slick appeals that can wind up costing them thousands of dollars,
not to mention untold anguish and stress.
Taking Your Money is the Number-One Goal of the nation's scamming
scoundrels. Many concoct their cons just to get a credit care number so they can go
on a spending spree financed by Y-O-U. Others will bill you incredible sums for
merely calling them to find out more. And still more want a check or cash as soon as
possible--by overnight delivery, by wire or even courier--so they have their money
before you have them figured out.
What Consumer-Soaking Schemes Are All the Rage These Days?
Among the major scams of the 1990s are postcard sweepstakes offer. In a recent
poll, 30 percent of Americans said they had responded to such mailings, sometimes
sending hundreds of dollars to "register" for a seemingly fabulous prize or trip.
False Charities Are Another Popular Consumer Con. Telephone
troublemakers claiming to represent everyone from police officers to the disabled take
advantage of Americans' generosity to the tune of billions of dollars each year.
Adding to the problem is an array of fraudulent appeals--in newspaper ads, on TV and
by mail--about business and investment opportunities, vacation homes, and even
"miracle cures" for everything from baldness to cancer.
What You Can Do
In the face of this onslaught of fraud, the best course for consumers is to beware.
Here are some pointers so you won't be conned by the pros:
- If a caller asks for your credit card, bank account or Social Security number to verify
a free vacation, a prize, or a gift, say "No" and hang up.
- If you're calling a 900 number in response to an advertisement or something you
received in the mail, make sure you know all the charges up front.
- Before you agree to support a charity that calls seeking money, ask for written
information about its finances and programs.
If you feel you've been conned, call the police or the Better Business Bureau.
Remember: consumer fraud is a crime. And last but not least, remember that an
offer that sounds too good to be true, probably is.
The following are possible signs of a fraudulent appeal for your hard-earned dollars:
- High-pressure tactics aimed at forcing a quick decision.
- Demands for "cash only" or special delivery/pickup of your payment.
- Companies and charities with "copycat" names--e.g., Salvation League instead of
- Delayed delivery of product or a prize.
- No risk, high-yield investments.
If you're suspicious, ask the company or charity to send written information before you
make any commitments. And feel free to hang up if you don't feel comfortable.
Remember: It's your choice.