Fraud, identity theft and other consumer scams – they’re all on the rise. According to the Consumer Sentinel Network, almost 2.6 million consumer complaints were filed in 2014, up nearly a half a million from the year before. And the price tag wasn’t cheap. Victims reported they lost $1.7 billion dollars to consumer scams and fraud.
This week is National Consumer Protection week, so here at the Lone Star Advocate, we’re bringing you what you need to know about consumer scams and fraud, as well as the top 10 most common frauds and scams you might come across. We urge you to share this information with your friends and family to better protect yourself.
First a few facts about fraud that you might not know:
Most Common Kind of Fraud: Government benefits or document fraud was the most common kind of fraud reported, with 40 percent of fraud victims falling prey. This kind of fraud is where someone uses your social security number to gain entry to the United States, get a job or government benefits.
Forget Nigeria: While there’s the impression that most scams come from foreign countries, the data shows something different. The vast majority of scams – 96 percent – originate in the United States.
1. Easy Credit
If they promise you can get a loan no matter your credit rating, be wary. These scammers want you to pay a fee upfront. What they don’t tell you: Advance fee loans are illegal, and for good reason. It won’t help your credit and will make it even worse.
Remember this simple rule: If someone calls you or emails you, asking for your social security card, bank account or credit card number, just don’t do it.
“Not for any reason, no matter who they say they are or why they say they need it,” says the attorney general’s office. “They will steal your identity and your money.”
3. Nigerian Fraud
There are countless scams out there – the daughter or son of a rich person in a far off country needs your help to get their inheritance, if only you can help them. They ask for money now in return for a huge windfall later. Don’t believe them. They’ll take your money, and you’ll never see any royal payback.
4. Counterfeit Cashier’s Checks.
These days, all cashiers checks are suspect. Don’t cash someone else’s cashiers check, for any reason. It could be counterfeit.
“The counterfeits in circulation today are very high quality forgeries. They might even fool your bank at first,” says the Texas Attorney General. “Counterfeit cashier’s checks can be used in combination with lottery scams, Nigerian fraud, government grants, and other scams where the victim is skeptical that there really is a pot of money to be gained.”
5. Bogus Debts
If you get a letter demanding you pay a debt you’ve never heard or, don’t pay it. Scammers hope you will be scared into paying, even though the debt is completely fake. If the debt is legitimate, your creditor will be able to provide proof.
6. Government Grants
Got a letter or email saying you’ve been awarded a government grant or offering help to apply for one? Don’t buy it. These kind of “grants” usually require a fee for you to apply – i.e. money that the scammer wants to steal from you.
“Government grants are not awarded to people who have not applied for them, no one can apply for you, and there is never a fee,” says the Texas Attorney General’s website.
7. Foreign Lotteries
Got a notification that you won a foreign lottery? It sounds too good to be true, and it definitely is. They’ll ask you to send money to collect your winnings, a kind of scam called advanced-fee fraud. If it’s a real lottery or sweepstakes, you never have to pay a fee to collect your winnings.
8. Home Repair
“Beware of unsolicited door-to-door home improvement offers,” writes the Texas Attorney General. “If it is a one-time offer, available only today, or a special deal on materials leftover from another job, be doubly cautious.”
If you’re looking for a home repair, ask friends, family and neighbors for recommendations for reputable companies and get several estimates before you choose one.
9. Business Opportunities
Is someone offering you a job or a business opportunity where you have to pay up front for a a training or a kit to begin? You should be suspicious. A real job will pay you, not the other way around.
10. Shopping Sprees
You get a call offering you a $500 shopping spree from a big company. All they need is your bank account number to collect a small fee for shipping you the vouchers. According to the Texas Attorney general, these offers are usually total fabrications. Never give out your financial information for an unsolicited offer. Never.