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Don't be a sucker

High awareness level is key to foiling the scammers

Created date

January 25th, 2011

It s an old idea described throughout time in many different ways: An ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure; forewarned is forearmed; knowledge is power. Regardless of which one you prefer, such phrases have never reigned truer than they do in this age of scams, when consumers and citizens in general can t be too careful. While Internet-based scams seem to attract the most attention today, some still persist by the more traditional means of phone and snail mail. Here are a few to keep an eye out for.

Phony Publishers Clearing House letter

The name Publishers Clearing House is synonymous with million-dollar payouts, and if you re one of the lucky few to have collected one, congratulations! Unfortunately, there s another letter circulating from scammers seeking to take rather than give. The way it works is scammers will send a fake Publishers Clearing House letter informing the recipient that he s won $1 million. Included with the note are instructions to call a Publishers Clearing House representative. This representative will tell the recipient that if he wants to collect his winnings, he must wire $4,000 to Publishers Clearing House, presumably to cover fees. Needless to say, you ll never see the wired money again. If you receive a letter matching this description, send it to the trash bin.

Foreign lottery scams

Letters notifying people that they ve won a foreign lottery jackpot are among the oldest scams in the book, and they still land in U.S. mailboxes on a near daily basis. Like the Publishers Clearing House scam, these letters often include instructions to wire money back for fees in order to collect the winnings. When you provide these scammers with a bank ID or account information in the process, they will have an open door through which they can drain your funds. Once again, if you receive such a letter by mail or even e-mail, chances are it s fraudulent. Get rid of it.

The grandparent scam

This is perhaps the most pernicious scam out there, for it preys on the emotions of generous, well-meaning people. The grandparent will receive a phone call from someone claiming to be their grandchild. The grandchild will tell them that he or she is in a foreign country (usually Canada) and is in some kind of trouble. According to Alison Southwick of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, these callers will ask for money to get them out of a sudden jam. They ll try to fabricate any number of emergencies in order to get cash out of someone, she explains. Most often, they ll claim to have wrecked a rental car or to have injured another driver, and now they need the money wired to them to cover bail or lawyers fees. When answering the phone, use caution. Ask the caller questions to confirm his or her identity, and don t wire money in a panic. Once you send it, it s unrecoverable. In the end, remember this: Knowing how scammers operate can prevent you from being their next victim.