activating fees. “Consumers think they’ve won a free prize, but all they’re getting is a very expensive phone bill,” says Manuel.
What’s more, phony telephone company technicians who say they need to test your phone line will direct you to press some numbers, such as 90 and the pound (#) sign. But when you do, you are unwittingly authorizing long-distance charges.
(Make sure that you call your local telephone company and ask for a “pick freeze” that prohibits the local provider from allowing any change in your long-distance service without your written authorization.)
Be suspicious of magazine sales. Some cons offer subscription rates at low prices or promise gifts with a purchase. Often these unscrupulous marketers will misrepresent the name of the publisher and the cost of the magazines and may never deliver.
Watch out for illegal tele-fundraisers who seek donations for nonprofit organizations that fight disease, or support police officers or the disabled. They use familiar sounding monikers, such as the National Lung Association, similar to the legitimate American Lung Association. Some may be raising funds for a charitable cause, but falsely state how much of your donation will actually go to that cause. Call your local attorney general’s office for names of approved charities.
Keep alert for more subtle business-to-business scams. By falsely representing an office supplier, “paper pirates” can get an employee to reveal information about your copier, for example, and then send a fake bill for the toner you use. “Companies will pay those bills, wrongly assuming they’ve received the goods,” says Healy. “They lose hundreds of thousands of dollars that way each year.”
Avoid claims that you’ve won one of multiple prizes. In this scenario, the caller will list such items as a car, $5,000, a gold diamond watch or five ounces of gold. What’s the catch? It will cost you $500 to participate. Since there are only a handful of winners, cons often succeed in convincing consumers that they have a one-in-five chance of winning the grand prize. You could end up with the inferior “gimme gift” of a watch or worse.
Note that these criminals are constantly seeking new ways to enter your home or office. Increasingly, they are taking consumers for a ride on the information superhighway, adds Healy. These scams include e-mail chain letters and investment and pyramid schemes. ..
Breaking the phone chain
So what happens if you find yourself in the middle of one of these schemes? The process of getting your money back becomes difficult after you’ve made a purchase, but experts believe hat awareness will help ensure your protection. Here’s what they suggest:
- Never give out your bank account, credit card or Social Security numbers, not even your birth date. Telemarketers will often call with partial information about you. “Every bit of information is part of a puzzle, and that may be the only missing piece,” Manuel charges.
- Do business only with people you know and trust. If an unfamiliar company representative calls you, ask for detailed information in writing. When (or if) you receive i, read the