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Ask the Expert

Protect Yourself from the Con Artist

Doug Terwilliger

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) receives more than half a million complaints of consumer fraud and identity theft on an annual basis. Consumers reported more than $600 million in losses in the past year (average of $350 per person). Internet-related fraud is topping old-school swindles such as vacation scams.

What type of information are con artists trying to obtain?

In the majority of cases, the scammer is trying to obtain your credit card account numbers so they can buy their own goods and services. Recently scammers have been asking for the three-digit number on the back of the credit card; scammers use this number for verification when purchasing over the phone or on the Internet. Scammers are also interested in any other type of personal information: name (including mother’s maiden name) and address, bank account numbers, and personal identification numbers.

Should I carry my Social Security Card?

No. A growing problem is the proliferation of identity theft through the use of a real person’s Social Security number. It’s best to keep your card in a secure place, such as a safe deposit box at your local bank.

What else can I do to protect myself?

If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. Individuals, especially senior citizens, need to be wary of offers from strangers. The best protection anyone has is not to provide any personal information over the phone, mail, or Internet unless they initiate the correspondence.


Top 10 Scams of 2006

According to, the top 10 scams of 2006 were:

  1. Fake Lottery Scam. This scam promises the victim they have won thousands of dollars in a foreign lottery; the victim needs to send money to cover the “taxes.”
  2. Phishing-Vishing Scams. Identity thieves “phish” for a consumer’s personal information, normally by sending a fake e-mail from a bank, credit union, or online payment service requesting account verification.
  3. Phony Job Scam. Employment offers done online without a formal interview are ripe for fraud.
  4. Negative Option Scams. These scams offer free goods or services, but those who accept are automatically signed up for something.
  5. Nigerian 419 Scams. This scam continues to make the list because victims continue to send money to a foreign country (recently Nigeria ) for a promise of a higher return.
  6. Pump & Dump Scam.  Scammers e-mail hot stock tips to unsuspecting victims. The victims buy the stocks, thus raising the stock price, and then the scammer sells for a profit (and a loss to the victim).
  7. Bogus Fuel-Saving Devices. Many products that claim to save fuel don’t work, or worse, may damage your car engine.
  8. Grandparents Scam.  Grandparents are contacted on the phone by someone claiming to be their family member, who then coerces them to send money.
  9. Oprah Ticket Scam. Victims receive e-mails that they could win tickets to The Oprah Winfrey Show after submitting personal information.
  10. Craigslist Scam. This new version of the fake check scam is marketed on Victims receive a phony check from one party and send a real check of their own money to another.


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