Skimmers

Skimmers are small devices that can read a credit or debit card and capture the information on the card for scam artists.  They may be installed on an ATM or a gas pump or any other device into which you directly swipe your credit card or debit card.  They may also be used as a portable device by a criminal clerk or waiter who takes your card and not only runs it for the legitimate charge for whatever you are purchasing, but also runs it through the skimmer to capture the information to steal access to your credit card or debit card.

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As much as possible, when giving your credit or debit card to a clerk or waiter, watch the card to make sure that it is not swiped through a skimmer as well as through the legitimate credit card processing machine.  Many restaurants now bring the card processing apparatus to you at your table to avoid this type of criminal activity.

And while you are at it, you should consider using your debit card less because unlike a credit card, the laws that protect you in the event of fraudulent use of the card are greatly limited.  While your liability for fraudulent use of your credit card is limited by law to no more than fifty dollars, your potential liability for fraudulent use of your debit card that you do not catch in a timely fashion could be the emptying of the checking account to which your debit card is attached.

ATM Scams

Using an ATM is a very convenient way to access your bank account.  Unfortunately, it is also a very convenient way for scam artists to access your bank account as well, often with your assistance.

The primary way ATM’s are compromised is through the use of a small device called a “skimmer” which fits over the slot where you put your bank card.  The skimmer reads the information embedded in your card, which is half the battle to accessing your account.  Often criminals will install cameras by the ATM to read your PIN as you input it into the ATM.    These cameras may even appear to be the security cameras used your bank.  Other times they may even install a keyboard over the regular keyboard to capture your PIN.

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Always check an ATM before using it to see if it appears to have been tampered with and when you input your PIN, shield the keyboard from any cameras or prying eyes.

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.

Hotel Scams

Scammers are always taking advantage of travelers and staying at a hotel carries many opportunities for scam artists to separate you from your money, starting when you check in and provide the clerk with your credit card.  Watch you card carefully throughout the initial check in process to make sure that the clerk does not run your card through a small device called a skimmer that can take all of the information from your card and enable the scammer to use your credit card without having the actual card in hand.  Make sure that the card does not leave your sight and that the only swipe of it done is through the hotel’s terminal.

Another scam that occurs in hotels happens when you receive a call from the front desk telling you that there was a problem with the credit card that you used when checking in.  The front desk clerk will tell you that you need to verify the information from the card over the phone.

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The call from the clerk is a scam and it is not from the clerk.  If you have any doubt, call the manager directly at a number that you know is accurate.

What is a Chain Letter?

This is another scam that keeps on returning with slight changes to appear to be something new and even legal, but if it looks like a duck, walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it is most likely a duck and a chain letter is easy to spot unless you are blinded by greed.

At its most basic a chain letter involve you receiving a letter that contains the names of a number of people, often five.  You are asked to send a sum of money to the first person on the list, take his or her name off of the list, add your name to the list as the last person and send it to five more people with the same instructions.

The problem is not only are chain letters illegal, they are also doomed to failure as they will rather rapidly run out of people to participate.

Chain letters are sometimes disguised to resemble legitimate business operations and you may even be sent some inexpensive item as part of the scam to make it appear to be a legitimate business proposal.  However, it is easy to see that it is the pyramid that drives the chain letter and nothing of value is done to put oneself in a position to receive compensation.  A scam by any other name is still a scam.

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Never get involved with chain letters regardless of their format.

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.