Beat the scammers in 2009! If that was not among your New Year's resolutions, maybe you should think seriously about adding it. Because all the signs are that the scammers are planning a BIG year in 2009.
They know the economy is in trouble and that we're all looking for ways to save, earn extra cash or help those less fortunate than ourselves. And that's all prime territory for crooks planning to hoodwink us into parting with our money.
Plus, more people down on their luck will mean more people tempted to try their hand at scamming.
And please don't think that if you're one of the lucky few who've never been targeted for a scam that you're immune to these tricksters. Sooner or later you'll encounter them -- in your mailbox, your email inbox, on the phone or face to face.
OK, that's enough gloom. We want you to be able to celebrate 2009, so we've put together some tips to help you beat the scammers.
Tip #1. Be very skeptical -- and trust almost no one
That's right, we say trust almost no one. That's because even people we think we know, including family and friends, may have innocently been tricked into becoming part of a scam.
They may pass on investment "advice" from someone they know. Or their identity may have been stolen so what you think is coming from them -- an email for instance -- is really from someone else.
A good example of exploiting our trust is the grandparent scam, where a victim gets a phone call supposedly from a desperate grandchild asking for money.
Thousands of people have been fooled into wiring hundreds or thousands of dollars to the scammer. You can find more on the grandparents scam on our website Cyber Security for Seniors.
Another good example is identity theft. As we've previously reported, fully 50% of reported identity theft is perpetrated by relatives, friends and neighbors, or acquaintances of the victim!
That's why we encourage you to be skeptical. Always ask yourself: What if this isn't what it appears to be? What steps can I take to check it out and confirm it?
Here are the main keys to being a healthy skeptic:
Don't believe sob stories from people you don't know. The vast majority of them are untrue.
Don't believe someone is who they say they are unless they can 100% prove it.
Don't believe you've won, inherited or otherwise gained a huge sum of money from a source you didn't previously know.
Which brings us to our favorite, which we never tire of repeating: Whether it's a miracle cure, a fantastic bargain or incredible luck, if it seems too good to be true, it almost certainly is.
When you do buy, never wire money via Western Union, never deposit a check and return a portion of money sent to you which is an overpayment, and whenever possible, pay by credit card (especially one-use credit cards if they are offered by your credit card company).
More tips to come...