Protect yourself from scams and fraud

September 01, 2011|Lynn Little

Fraud is defined as wrongful or criminal deception intended to result in financial or personal gain. There are many different types of types of fraud to be aware of, including:

 Contest and lottery scams: Often scammers will email or call you saying you have won a large prize like cash or a trip. You should never have to pay or give account information when you win a prize.

 Charity fraud: Organizations around the globe ask for donations to help those in need; however, you want to check the legitimacy of the organization before you donate. Use to verify any charity before you consider a donation.

 Financial scams: Banking fraud and financial scams give people access to your financial accounts and investments.

 Identity theft: Make sure to monitor your accounts regularly for any unknown activity. If you think your identity has been stolen, contact the FTC at its ID Theft Hotline, 877-IDTHEFT (877-438-4338). To report fraud, you can use the FTC's online complaint assistant (  The Consumer Action Handbook ( can help you learn how to file a complaint.

Warning signs

Know some of the warning signs for frauds and scams.

 Someone you don't know asks you to send money or money orders to claim a prize, lottery credit card, loan or other valuable offer. Or he or she offers you the chance to receive a credit card, loan, prize, lottery or other valuable item, but asks you for personal information to claim it.

  •  The deal is only good "for today" or a short period of time.
  •  The seller offers "free gifts" in return for a minimum effort or a fee.
  •  A sale item is suddenly unavailable but a "much better item" is available for slightly more money.
  •  The solicitation looks like a government document and suggests contest winnings or unclaimed assets are yours for a small fee. (The government doesn't solicit money from citizens.)  
  • To protect your personal information and your money:
  •  Don't give out personal information. Be suspicious if you don't know who is asking for your Social Security number, credit card and bank account details, date of birth, etc.
  •  Be suspicious of calls or emails that want you to provide or verify personal information. Hang up or don't reply to the email.
  •  Monitor your accounts. Review bank and credit card statements carefully. Report unauthorized transactions to your financial institution immediately.
  •  Use a shredder. Tear or shred credit offers you receive in the mail, bank statements, insurance forms and other papers with personal information
  • You can't control whether someone is going to try to scam you, but there are ways to be ready to protect yourself.  Falling for a scam can turn your whole world upside down. Get prepared now so you'll be protected later.

Visit and search for consumer protection to help you learn more ways to protect yourself from frauds and scams.

Lynn Little is a family and consumer sciences educator with University of Maryland Extension in Washington County.

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