“While these are worthwhile ideas to remember anytime,” explains Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois, “the start of a new year is an especially good time to use these as resolutions and practice them throughout the year. They will help ensure you are protected against scammers.”
· Check it out first. Before making any major, or even minor, purchase check out reviews at www.bbb.org/chicago . It’s a free service. You can view our Business Reviews with the business ratings. And you can read Customer Reviews from other people like you. There are far too many times when people say: “I should have checked with the BBB first.”
· If it sounds too good to be true, it usually is. Don’t get suckered into a scam that aims to steal your money or personal identity, while promising to give you money. Free anything typically comes with some catches or obligations. This caution goes for foreign lotteries, mystery shopper offers and credit repair scams. How do these cheat you? All foreign lotteries are illegal, of course they don’t tell you that. You may think you are getting paid for your work as a mystery shopper, but the check they send to reimburse you may be fraudulent. And no matter what the credit repair services may say or may charge you, they cannot erase correct information.
· Don’t pay it all up front. A small down payment is a reasonable request for a home services contractor who may be doing a contracting job for you. But never pay the entire amount upfront. Not only do you lose control of your money, but you have no leverage with the contractor, and no guarantee the job will get done in a timely manner, if at all.
· Shred it. If you don’t need old personal papers or financial records, shred them. They may still contain enough personal information for identity thieves to use to get an account in your name and quickly use it before they are stopped. Automatically shredding old information is a lot easier than the time and trouble it takes to fix a stolen identity.
· Find out what others think of you. Get a free copy of your credit report yearly at www.annualcreditreport.com . Some services may say they provide your credit report for free, but you could end up paying for it or getting spammed with unwanted email offers.
· Read the contract. This includes the fine print, and if you don’t understand something keep asking questions until you are clear about the matter. A salesperson may promise something, but if the contract doesn’t include it, you have no recourse.
· If they call or email you, don’t give them personal info. A favorite trick of scammers is to call or email about a supposed problem with your credit or bank account. They then ask for complete identity information. Remember if they are legitimate, they already have your information and won’t need all of it. Only scammers need complete info. If you give them your complete information, they can use it. Banks and credit agencies ask only for a select few numbers for verification, not entire account numbers.
· Government does not use emails to contact you. No matter how official it may look, government agencies like the IRS (tax time is coming) do not use emails to request initial information. Nor do they ever demand payment within 30 minutes, as some scammers represent. If you have any questions about correspondence you receive, either call the appropriate agency directly or the BBB before sending information.
· Make sure the charity is real before giving money. No one wants their money to be wasted when giving to a charitable cause. It’s even worse when the charity is a fake altogether. Go to www.bbb.org/chicago or www.give.org to check out that a charity is a worthwhile cause.
· Warn others if you get ripped off. Everyone tries to be careful, but sometimes a scam can slip through the defenses. If it happens to you, let others know. BBB ScamTracker reporting can be accessed at www.bbb.org/chicago .
www.bbb.org/chicago Start With Trust®
ABOUT BBB: For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2014, people turned to BBB more than 165 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.7 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. The Council of Better Business Bureaus is the umbrella organization for 113 local, independent BBBs in the United States, Canada and Mexico, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution, advertising review, and industry self-regulation.