Area Code 809

Have you ever heard of area code 809?  Don’t feel bad if you haven’t because it probably is not an area code with which you would be familiar unless you make a lot of calls to the Caribbean.   Similar to the 900 scam, you may receive a call in your voice mail telling you that you have won a contest or even that someone you know has gotten into difficulties and needs your help.  In any event, you are prompted to call a number beginning with the area code 809 which at charges of $25 per minute can run up your phone bill to outrageous levels quite quickly.

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Always be skeptical of any call instructing you to call the area code 809 unless you truly do know who is calling and that they are in the Caribbean.

900 Numbers

We all know that 800 telephone numbers represent toll free calls, but you should be equally aware that a telephone number that starts with 900 is a pay per call.  Scammers will call you and leave a message to call them in regard to a contest you have won or any other ruse to get you to return the call.  Once they have you on the line, they do everything possible to prolong the call and increase the charges on your phone bill.  Some scammers will have you call an 800 number, but then have you press the number 9 to verify your phone number without realizing that you have just transferred the call to a 900 number.

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Consider having your phone service provider block access to 900 numbers from your phone.   The FTC regulates 900 numbers and requires that you be asked at the start of the call to pay with a credit card or to make billing arrangements at that time.  If you have been scammed by a 900 number charge that appears on your phone bill, call your phone provider as tell them to remove the charge from your bill.

Cramming

Cramming is the term for unauthorized charges appearing on your telephone bill.   These charges may be one-time affairs or they may be regular monthly charges.  Today’s telephone bills are pretty confusing and scammers who use cramming bank on the fact that many people just don’t pay enough attention to the details of their bills.  So how do these charges get on our bills?  The sad truth is that we authorize them, often by signing up for sweepstakes of other contests.  Booths offering free trips or free merchandise are found frequently at sporting events and other public gatherings.  Read the fine print on the card that you use to sign up for the drawing and you may see that you have also signed up for a telephone service.

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Always read the fine print.   Rarely is their ever anything fine to be found in fine print.  Always be skeptical of free contests.  Make sure they indeed come without obligation and be careful of what personal information you give out to enter a contest.  It also is smart to check out your phone bill each month.  To determine if you have been crammed, look for terms such as “Miscellaneous charges and credits,” “member fee” or other charges that you don’t recognize.

Romance Scams

Online dating services can be a great way to meet people and most of them are legitimate, however, there are a number of phony websites that offer to find that special person for you, but only end up breaking your wallet as well as your heart.  In particular, many of the scams are based outside of the country.  The Russian Republic of Mari El is renowned for its scam romance websites that lure unsuspecting people into sending money to bring over their new loves from overseas only to learn that the entire thing was a scam.

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Check out any dating or romance website with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau or even one of the simplest scam tests is to Google the name of the website with the word “scam” next to it and see what comes up.

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.

Lotteries and Contest Scams

Year in and year out, lottery and contest scams are some of the most lucrative scams for conmen.  You may be told that you have won a large lottery or contest.  To further gain your confidence, you may even be told that the contest or lottery has been approved by the FBI or that the contest is sponsored by a big company with which you may be familiar, such as Clorox, a legitimate company whose name was used by scammers to steal money from unsuspecting victims.  Most of these lottery scams involve you having to pay various processing fees or even income taxes to the lottery sponsor.

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It is hard enough to win a contest you enter, so you should be particularly wary when told that you have won a contest that you never even entered.  Legitimate contests and lotteries do not have processing fees that you have to pay and they do not collect income taxes from you.  The sponsor either would pay the taxes on your behalf or provide you with an IRS Form 1099 informing you of how much money was paid on your behalf to the IRS or you would be responsible to pay the IRS directly.  You would not pay the income taxes on the prize to the contest sponsor.

And beware of your winnings coming to you in the form of a certified bank check.  Unsuspecting victims have deposited these checks and waited for the check to clear before sending processing fees only to find that the check was a forgery and their own bank had only given them provisional credit for the check so that once it bounced, the victim not only lost the “winnings” but also the processing fees.

Loan Scams

In desperate times people often let their guard down, which provides a lethal combination for scammers offering loans to people even if they have poor credit.  You may get a solicitation for the loan through an email or you may even see it in legitimate media, but you should always beware.  Just because an advertisement for a loan appears in a legitimate newspaper or other media does not mean that the loan offering has been investigated for legitimacy by the media carrying the advertisement.  In fact, in difficult financial times when advertising dollars are hard to come by, the standards of media for taking advertisement seem to drop.

You may be surprised at how fast your sham loan is approved.  All you have to do is to send in an advance processing fee and you are on your way to financial stability.  Unfortunately, the loan is a scam and you end up more in debt when you pay for a worthless loan.

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Legitimate lenders rarely ask for advance fees.  They usually deduct fees from the loan amount.  Check with your state’s attorney general or the FTC if you have questions about an unfamiliar lender.  And if the loan requires an advance fee, don’t do it.  Chances are it is a scam.  Also, even if you don’t have to pay an advance fee, always be sure the lender is legitimate before you provide any information such as your Social Security number which could be going to an identity thief who is merely using the promise of a loan as a ruse to obtain personal information from you.