published Saturday, September 8th, 2012

ConsumerWatch: Scam artists turn your 'win' into a loss


by Ellen Phillips

A number of folks recently have contacted me about being embroiled in scams.

Rather than answering each questions separately, I decided to emphasize the latest tricks forced upon us (if we're not very careful) by scammers who are around each bush waiting to pounce. Thanks to Consumer Reports for the research aids.

• You've just won a $100 gift card. Well, guess what? No, you haven't.

And, if you're not truly cautious, you'll be an even bigger loser than before. The aim of Sam Scammer is to get you out of your home so he and his cronies can come burgle your furnishings. Always be suspicious when you're promised something for nuthin'.

Ask questions like, "What contest did I win?" "How was I chosen? "Where exactly do I pick up the prize money?" Then call the company or store to verify (or not) the details. And whenever you go anywhere, lock your door and arm the security system because, evidently, you've been targeted.

• National Sweepstakes calls you with the big news. And to make the announcement even more assuring, the call supposedly comes from the National Consumer Protection Agency, the make-believe national Sweepstakes Bureau, and the FTC (Federal Trade Commission.)

All the paperwork comes from Washington, D.C. It all appears to be totally legitimate, and it fools you into thinking the "win" is authentic. Not! The aim is for you to pay a transfer fee or taxes and insurance on "winnings" of $20 to $10,000.

If we're sucker enough to fall for this scheme, we'll be out these fees, but won't gain any winnings at all. The crooks will grin all the way down the road. Just remember that while governments definitely tax winnings, they have nothing to do with delivery, and high-pressure selling usually is just that and no more. Hang up the phone or tear up the mail, please.

n If you don't pay for a repair up front, the repairman leaves the home to go elsewhere to find a fall guy.

After so many natural disasters hit our area, a lot of these shysters came door-to-door to fix roofs, especially, or to clean up debris in or around the house. (Roofers in general rank 15th with the BBB among all industries for the number of complaints.)

Never pay the price of a job before it's completed; at most, pay increments of one-third, which I've discussed before. Never pay with cash. Never do business with folks who knock on your door. Get quotes from legitimate local contractors -- at least three -- who are licensed and insured.

n ID theft for your tax returns is a scary new trend that this year has jumped to almost a million returns.

You receive a letter from Uncle Sam after you've filed your returns, telling you they've already paid your refund. Crooks use your identity to file a claim, and if you don't have money coming to you, they lie about deductions -- over $5 billion in ripped-off refunds this year.

If you suspect for a moment you've been the subject of ID Theft, file on the IRS website www.irs.gov/pub/irs-pdf/f14039.pdf. Report the problem to the Social Security Administration, which also needs to protect your at-risk benefits.

(to be continued ...)

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears every Saturday. Email her at consumer watch@timesfree press.com.

about Ellen Phillips...

Ellen Phillips is a retired English teacher who has written two consumer-oriented books. Her Consumer Watch column appears on Saturdays in the Business section of the paper. An expanded version is at www.timesfreepress.com under Local Business.

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