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Tips for smart shoppers

Posted: Thursday, January 22, 2004

There is no shortage of scams out there today. Consumers of all ages and nationalities are targeted by con artists whose primary goal is to part you from your money. The best way to avoid being taken advantage of is to become a smarter consumer.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following tips to help improve your consumer skills:

Be your own best protector. Even with all the consumer protection agencies and laws on the books, consumers must protect themselves by being leery of high pressures, "too good to be true" claims. Say "no" whenever you feel pressured or have questions that are not answered yet. Carefully check out businesses and deals before signing anything or paying money up front.

Do not do business with strangers who approach you at home without doing a thorough check. Make sure you have a permanent address and phone number for the business. Check the company out with your BBB.

Read before you sign. Read anything you sign to make sure you understand it, and to make sure it matches what the salesperson told you.

Do not give any personal information over the phone to an unfamiliar company. This includes your credit card numbers, but also the credit card expiration date, your Social Security number, driver's license number and bank account numbers. Even if you are told it is only for "identification" or "verification," this information can be used for unauthorized credit card charges or bank account debits.

Do not pay in advance for a "guaranteed" loan or job. Advance fee schemers typically ask for hundreds and sometimes thousands of dollars up front in order to allegedly deliver what they've promised, usually without a written contract.

Do not fall for calls or letters claiming you have won a prize, but you must pay something. These calls or letters are usually worded very carefully to give the impression that you already have won, when in fact, it is either a low-value "premium with purchase" or a non-required purchase with extremely slim odds that you are the top winner.

Do not get involved with work-at-home schemes or business opportunities without checking carefully. Work-at-home offers to address or stuff envelopes, assemble items, read books, sell Web sites, and so on, where you must pay first for a kit or instructions, are schemes to get your money but usually deliver nothing. At best, the advertiser will send you information that is quite different from what was represented.

Do not respond to e-mails pretending to be from well-known companies. Such e-mails are often cleverly disguised scams from computer criminals trying to steal your credit card number and other personal financial data.



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