Phony Diplomas

A College degree can help you land a good job, but a phony diploma from an organization granting worthless college degrees that require you to do little, if any academic work, but gives you large credit for your “life experience” is just a diploma mill that can, in fact, hurt your chances of getting a job.  There also are easy to recognize scams that just lure people into being a part of the scam by selling you counterfeit diplomas of legitimate colleges.  Either way, you should avoid these education scams.  Some states, such as Oregon have even made it a crime to use a diploma from one of these phony colleges.

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“What’s in a name?”  If you studied Shakespeare in college, you would know that quote comes from “Romeo and Juliet.”  Always check the name of phony colleges because the names may be quite similar to legitimate colleges.  Columbia State University is a diploma mill.  Columbia University is an Ivy League college.  Check out the school at the U.S. Department of Education’s website at www.ope.edu.gov/accreditation to see if the particular institution of higher learning is an accredited college.

Scholarship Scams

College is expensive and access to scholarship funds can help reduce the cost of higher education.  But scam artists are there ready to take advantage of you in many ways when it comes to paying for higher education.  They may offer low interest advance fee loans.  Like most advance fee loans, they are most likely a scam.  And what about the scholarship you won even though you never applied for it?  Like winning contests that you never entered, these too are undoubtedly scams.

Some companies may offer to match you up with scholarships for a fee and may even offer a guarantee, but you can find the information on scholarships yourself for free and their guarantee is only as good as the company itself.

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Don’t fall for advance fee loans and for free scholarship information, go to www.finaid.org, wwwfastweb.monster.com and www.nasfaa.org which is maintained by the National Association of Student Financial Aid Administrators.

Weight Loss Scams

Many of us would like to lose a few pounds and many more of us would like to lose more than a few pounds.  Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise are the keys to weight loss, but that is not quick enough or easy enough for people looking for shortcuts.  Phony weight loss products and programs are rampant and as fast as the FTC goes after one scheme (as they did in 2007 when they went after four companies who agreed to pay 25 million dollars in fines) another one pops up.

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Be wary of any weight loss product sold exclusively through mail order or exclusively over the Internet.  Remember that weight loss programs that promise quick results without diet or exercise are impossible.  Check with the FTC if you have doubts about a weight loss company.

Exercise Equipment Scam

Exercise is good for us.  We all know that.  We also would like to find exercise equipment that makes exercising easier, quicker and more efficient.  Scam artists take advantage of our desire to find that perfect exercise equipment that will all but do the work for us and provide tremendous results in little time.  The problem is that such equipment probably does not exist.  Beware of inflated claims and again don’t trust the advertisement merely because it appears in media that you trust.  The media may not have done their homework to investigate the product before accepting the advertisement.  The FTC is always looking for exercise scams, but they have a hard time keeping up with the scammers.

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Read the fine print carefully. There rarely is anything fine in fine print.  Find out how much this is going to cost you.  How many “easy” monthly payments are you locking yourself into?  And beware of guarantees from companies that you don’t know.  The guarantees are only as good as the company that gives them.  Check with the FTC about any exercise equipment you may consider if it appears too good to be true.

Unclaimed Property Scam

You may receive an email or letter informing you that there are billions of dollars of unclaimed or abandoned money being held by the states and federal government and that some of that money is yours.  For a fee, the person or company contacting you will assist you in locating that property claiming it for you.

The truth is that indeed various state and federal agencies are holding more than 24 billion dollars of unclaimed money that is waiting to be retrieved by the rightful owners.  State laws require financial institutions, such as banks, to turn over money from inactive accounts.   Among the assets held by these agencies are savings and checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividend checks, certificates of deposit and utility security deposits.

Where the scam comes in is when you are asked to call a company’s 809 telephone number for more information.  Unfortunately, this call will run up a steep charge on your telephone bill and the only information you will get is general useless information as to how you can claim the money yourself or pay them a steep fee for doing it for you.

Some “legitimate” companies may also contact you to assist you in getting back your missing money, but it is important to remember that they cannot have any specific information as to what you are owed because of privacy regulations that prohibit them from obtaining that information.

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The best place to find a helping hand to assist you in locating and getting back your abandoned property is at the end of your own arm.  Go to the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators at www.unclaimed.org where you can link on to the website for your own state’s agency that deals with abandoned property and take the steps necessary to claim your abandoned property at no cost to you.  Other useful websites for locating money that you may be owed include www.irs.gov, the website for the IRS where you can find tax refund money you may be owed and www.pbgc.gov, the website of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency that holds unclaimed pension funds.

Voter Registration Fraud

During election years, scam artists call their victims pretending to be from either your local voter registration board or a civic organization offering to either help you register to vote or to confirm your status as an enrolled voter.  They then ask you for information to confirm your identity, such as your Social Security number.  Unfortunately, the information gathered is not to register you to vote or to confirm your registration, but to make you a victim of identity theft.  Voter registration is not done over the phone and they never request your Social Security number.

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Never give out personal identifying information to anyone on the telephone whom you have not called and are not sure who they are.

Affinity Fraud

We all tend to trust people who are just like us.  That is a truism.  With a knowledge of psychology that would make Sigmund Freud envious, conmen use that trust to their advantage.  Scammers know that once they have a potential victim’s heart and trust, their wallet soon follow.

We are experiencing an epidemic of fraud that targets particular nationalities, ethnic groups, racial groups, fraternal organizations and religious groups.  Religion related scams are particularly common.  Bernie Madoff was guilty of tremendous affinity fraud within the Jewish American community.  A scam artist may join a particular church, synagogue or mosque and gain the trust and confidence of the congregation by making a significant contribution to the religious organization.  But this is just see money.  Scammers often target members of a religious, ethnic, fraternal or other group that they appear to belong to and offer “special” investment opportunities that ultimately turn out to be worthless.

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You should never trust anyone who asks you to trust him.  Always do your homework before you invest your money.  The endorsement of someone you know and trust is no substitute for real research into any investment.

Lost Pets

Scammers take advantage of people who have lost pets and posted fliers or notices on line.  They will be more than happy to return your pet to you for just enough money to cover the shipping costs.  Sometimes you will even get a call purportedly from a legitimate shipping company to confirm the details.  Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of people who have lost their pets by contacting them and promising to return their pets to them although they have no connection to the pet.

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If you are contacted by someone who says that they have found your pet, ask them to send a picture and make sure it is not the same picture that you may have posted on your flier.  You can tell them that you merely want to confirm that it is your pet that they have.

Staged Auto Accidents

Scammers will stage automobile accidents in many ways, such as slamming on their brakes while driving in front of you without giving you an opportunity to stop, causing you to hit them from behind.  Generally, the scammers will have phony witnesses to bolster their case.  Sometimes they are willing to settle with you for cash rather than involve your insurance company, but other times they are looking to defraud your insurance company.

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If you are involved in an automobile accident, call the police.  When you exchange license and registration information, be careful not to provide more information than necessary to protect yourself from identity theft.  Report all accidents to your insurance company and make sure that you get the license and registration of the other driver.  Make sure you see the actual license and registration rather than just take the information provided by the other driver.

What is a Credit Score / Credit Report?

Your credit report is one of the most important documents in your financial life.  The information in your credit report as maintained by the three major credit reporting agencies, Equifax, TransUnion and Experian is used to calculate your credit score.  This is used by financial institutions to evaluate your credit worthiness and can affect your ability to get a credit card, mortgage loan or a car loan.  It also can affect the rate that you will be charged on such loans.  Your credit score is also used in many states by companies in making employment hiring decisions.  When you are the victim of identity theft, the effect on your credit score can be devastating.  It is a complicated, frustrating and time consuming task to correct your credit report after you have been the victim of identity theft.

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Make sure that your credit report and your credit score are accurate.  Get a free copy from each of the three major credit reporting agencies once a year by going to www.annualcreditreport.com.