March 6 to 12 was National Consumer Protection Week, but it’s important for you to protect yourself each and every day. Doing so is key to making sure that your rights as a consumer are not violated and that your safety is preserved. Here are five tips to help you become a more empowered consumer, protect your privacy, manage your finances and detect harmful frauds and scams.
Beware of tax relief companies claiming to be able to help you with back taxes. Often, these companies request an upfront fee (sometimes thousands of dollars) in exchange for them applying for an IRS hardship program that you may not even qualify for. Only the IRS can determine your eligibility and tell you if you should apply. Often, the companies don’t settle the debt or file the proper paperwork. Instead, contact the IRS Taxpayer Advocate Service for help. Remember: only and Enrolled Agent, CPA, or tax attorney has the authority to represent you before the IRS.
Be on the lookout for the “grandparents scam.” The most common form of this scam happens when someone impersonating your grandchild asks for money because he or she got into some kind of accident. The “grandchild” concludes the call or email by asking you not to call his or her parents for fear of being punished. Despite the name, this scam occurs across all age ranges. The common theme is that someone impersonating one of your friends or family members asks you to wire money due to some accident. Before sending any money, thoroughly check out the person’s identity by asking questions only he or she would know.
Know that when it comes to saving your home from foreclosure, under the <a href="http://www.ftc.gov/opa/2010/11/mars.shtm" target="_blank"><strong>Mortgage Assistance Relief Services Rule</strong></a>, it’s illegal for a company to collect any payments until you, the homeowner, have received and accepted an offer of relief from your lender.
If you’re skeptical of a product’s claims, go to ftc.gov/whocaresfor tips on how to detect deceptive product claims and whom to contact if you feel a product is not performing according to its statements.
Beware of credit repair scams. If a credit repair company tells you to apply for an Employee Identification Number to use instead of your Social Security Number so that you can form a new credit identity, walk away. It is a federal crime to misrepresent your Social Security Number, obtain an EIN from the Internal Revenue Service for the wrong purpose, or to lie on a loan or credit application.