By now, we can safely say the world is not going to end, despite bleak predictions surrounding the Mayan calendar.
So, I would suggest you crawl out of your bunker, return whatever items you bought during your end-of-the-world survival spending spree, and start working on your 2013 New Year’s resolutions.
I’ll even get you started: I resolve to help you become a more educated consumer throughout the new year.
Even if the world had ended last month, I am willing to bet that scammers, schemers and liars would have crawled out of the rubble, like the cockroaches they are, looking for victims for their next con. So, 2013 should be a time to steel yourself and your family against their tricks and games.
Here are a few suggested resolutions:
1. Beware of “job” offers that may be too good to be true. Last summer, local resident Ambrosia Moore told me she lost more than $1,500 in a job offer scam.
After answering a help wanted ad, Moore believed she had been hired to be a personal assistant to a businessman in California.
The man she believed to be her employer asked her to cash a check he sent her, retain her $400 weekly salary and then forward the remainder of the money to an orphanage overseas.
Unfortunately, the check had been drawn on a closed account and Moore was on the hook for the entire amount.
It is a good idea to check out any potential employer with the Better Business Bureau. This holds especially true if the circumstances of the offered employment are non-traditional, such as working for someone you have not met face-to-face.
2. Don’t trust free money. Last fall, a Harker Heights resident told me his wife received a call notifying her that she won $75,000 in a sweepstakes. All she had to do to collect her winnings was pay $299 in taxes, fees and other charges.
Of course, the Wallaces didn’t remember entering a sweepstakes and knew better than to send money.
Any promise of claiming money that requires you to pay up-front fees or taxes is illegal and generally a scam.
3. Look for the BBB seal and always check with BBB before you buy. Nearly 400,000 businesses have earned BBB accreditation and meet BBB standards. Look for the seal on websites and at business locations.
4. Always read the fine print — especially for “free” trial offers. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB last year after signing up for a “free” trial offer online that resulted in hundreds of dollars charged to their credit or debit cards. Read the terms and conditions of any “free” trial offer before handing over credit or debit card numbers.
5. Keep your computer safe. Install anti-virus software onto your computer and don’t forget to regularly check for software and operating system updates and patches. Don’t open attachments or click on links in emails unless you can confirm the email came from someone you trust.
6. Never wire money to someone you don’t know. I recently spoke with a local woman who got a call one night from her grandson. He was stuck in Mexico; his car had broken down and someone had stolen all his cash and credit cards. He pleaded with his grandmother to send him some money via Western Union.
Luckily, the woman I spoke to was smart enough to call her grandson to verify the story. He was safe at home in bed, and she kept her money where it was. Other Killeen-area grandparents have told me the same story with slight variations on the plea for help.
Many scams require you to wire money. Tracking funds sent via MoneyGram or Western Union is extremely difficult and it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.
7. Fight identity theft. At BBB Shred Day last October, a man told me all about his fight to restore his credit after someone he knew very well had stolen his identity. Don’t leave financial and other personal documents out where they can be stolen by someone you invite into your home. Using a cellphone camera, it takes only a second or two to take a photo of a document.
Another way scammers get your personal information is to sort through trash and old mail for Social Security numbers, birthdates, credit card and other financial information. Always shred paper documents that include sensitive financial data and dispose of computers, cellphones and digital data safely.
8. Fight fake check fraud. I know of one woman who took a job handling accounts for a foreign company. She received a check, deposited it in her bank account, and (minus a small fee for herself) forwarded the rest to a foreign account. She thought it was a good gig, until she had to answer some awkward questions about money laundering from the FBI.
Beware of any job offer, work-at-home scheme or business opportunity that promises big money for little work and no experience.
9. Ask BBB for help. File a complaint with your BBB if you have a dispute with a business or have been ripped off by a scammer.
10. Get everything in writing. Don’t just take someone’s word for it. Get every verbal agreement in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between your expectations and what the business delivers.
For consumer information, reports on businesses or charities, to schedule a guest speaker or to file a complaint, go to www.centraltx.bbb.org or call (254) 699-0694.
Richard Kitterman is executive director of the Better Business Bureau serving Central and South Central Texas.