Scam artists are at work even in a recession, says LSU family economist Gloria Nye. Many scams and frauds count on people being more vulnerable when they are desperate because of hard times.
“Bottom line, as always, is that if it sounds too good to be true, beware,” Nye says.
Nye details several scams in operation:
• AARP warns that scams are on the rise in the wake of health care reform. Con artists are trying to sell “ObamaCare” insurance, telling people they’ll go to jail if they don’t have the coverage.
“Truth is, the requirement to have health insurance doesn’t begin until 2014,” Nye says, “and you can’t be jailed for not having insurance.”
• Consumer Affairs warns about “free trials,” where you only have to pay a small amount for shipping. They ask for your credit card information and then unauthorized charges are made to your credit card.
• Mortgage modifications and foreclosure rescue scams prey on desperate homeowners and make matters much worse with promises of saving homeowners from foreclosure. They don’t, Nye says.
For legitimate help, Nye suggests contacting the Homeownership Preservation Foundation at (888) 995-HOPE (4673) and speaking to a housing specialist approved by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.
• Government stimulus scams promise you a share of cash in return for your bank account information, and then your bank account gets robbed.
• Work-at-home schemes are almost always bogus job offers that require you to provide a bank account or credit card number or to wire money to the scammer.
• Auto warranty offers that target senior citizens, warning them that their auto warranty is about to expire and can be extended. Scammers get credit card information, and consumers are charged but get nothing in return.
• Lottery scams tell people they’ve won a prize in a national lottery and that they must send money to pay fees and taxes. Nye says the prize doesn’t exist.
• Advance-fee frauds are letters, e-mails or checks from other countries offering a large sum of money in return for using your bank account or asking for cash up-front to transfer money out of the country.
• FreeCreditReport.com is the ad we see on TV all the time, but the report is not free. The only free credit report is available at www.annualcreditreport.com.
• 900 phone numbers incur significant charges. Scammers send notification of a win with instructions to call a 900 number to claim your prize. You get nothing except the phone charges.
To check on something questionable or to report any of these frauds, Nye says to contact the Louisiana Attorney General’s Office Consumer Protection Info-Line at (800) 351-4889.