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Tips for Avoiding Scams

Saying no is the best defense! (Photo by B. Rosen, Flickr)

Saying no is the best defense! (Photo by B. Rosen, Flickr)

One day out of the blue, Janice got a telephone call from a man claiming to be with a computer repair company she had used in the past. The man said her computer had been hacked and needed to be fixed. The man offered Janice a lifetime maintenance agreement for only $300. He instructed her to purchase a $300 gift card, leading her to believe it could be used like a credit card. The man told Janice that the numbers on the card did not work and that she would have to buy another $300 card. When Janice got suspicious and asked for a refund of her $600, the man told her she would have to pay another $400 to process the refund.

A few days later, the man called and left Janice a message saying that he had fixed her computer and cleaned up the damage caused by the hackers. When Janice called back to again request a refund and to see proof that the work had been done, the voice on the other end of the line denied any connection to the computer repair company and told Janice the call she had received was fake.

Does this story sound familiar? Scams like these are on the rise, and many of them are targeting seniors. The North Carolina Department of Justice offers its Top Ten Consumer Tips to help you avoid scams:

  1. Say no to high pressure sales pitches. If the offer is good “today only,” walk away.
  1. Read contracts carefully before signing, and make sure written documents match what you’ve been promised. If you don’t understand the document or there are blanks to be filled in later, DO NOT SIGN.
  1. Be cautious when responding to telemarketers, door-to-door sellers, and e-mail or text pitches. Instead of responding to unsolicited offers, take charge and decide for yourself when and where you go shopping.
  1. You never have to make a purchase or pay taxes, fees, or other expenses in advance to win a prize. Anyone who demands an upfront fee for a prize is trying to scam you.
  1. Never give out your Social Security number, credit card or bank account number, or any other personal information to anyone you don’t know who contacts you.
  1. Be skeptical of upfront fees. If advance payment is required, use a credit card when possible. This gives you some protection if your order doesn’t arrive or work isn’t completed.
  1. Only do business with companies you know or are recommended by someone you trust. Check out a company with the Attorney General’s Office or Better Business Bureau before making a big purchase or payment.
  1. Join the Do Not Call registry to cut down on unwanted telemarketing calls. Once you’re on the list, report violators to the Attorney General’s Office.
  1. Check your credit report regularly. You’re entitled to one free credit report per year from each credit bureau.
  1. If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is!

What about Janice?

Janice’s story is true, and she’s decided to tell it so other people can learn from it and avoid the stress and anxiety she has experienced. What can we learn from Janice?

  1. Be suspicious of someone calling to tell you that you have a problem. Janice trusted the man on the phone because she already had a relationship with the company he claimed to work for. Unsolicited calls telling you that you have a problem are rarely legitimate, even if they come from a business you know. If you get a call like this, hang up and call the company back at the number you have in your records or visit the company’s physical location in order to verify the problem.
  1. Do not buy gift cards, Western Union cards, or any other prepaid cards. Legitimate businesses will not insist on being paid in gift cards or other prepaid cards.
  1. Trust your instincts. If you start to feel uncomfortable or suspicious about a deal or transaction, trust yourself and put a stop to it! When Janice began to suspect that something was off about the deal, she refused to hand over any more money. She then called a trusted friend for advice and a second opinion.

Next week we will pick up with the rest of Janice’s story and talk about what steps to take if you or someone you know becomes the victim of a scam.