BUFFALO - Has your New Year taken off in a good direction? Keep it that way!
With this continued rough economy, it’s more important that ever to resolve yourself to become a savvy consumer. The Better Business Bureau offers the following ten tips to help you fight scammers, prevent identity theft and save money in 2010.
“Being a savvy consumer is ultimately about using money wisely and knowing some red flags that can tip you off to a scam. In this tough economy most of us are trying to squeeze as much value as possible out of every dollar and no one can afford to loose money,” said David Polino, Better Business Bureau President. “Creating a budget, researching businesses before you buy and learning how to stay away from scammers should be on everyone’s list this year.”
BBB recommends the following ten tips to become a savvier consumer in
1. Beware of “job” offers to make easy money. Unemployment is at record highs and scammers are targeting the large pool of job hunters. Beware of any job offer, work-at-home scheme or business opportunity that promises big money for little work and no experience.
2. Look for the BBB seal and always check a business out with BBB before you buy. Nearly 400,000 businesses bear the BBB seal of accreditation and meet our standards; you can find the seal on Web sites and at business locations. But BBB doesn’t just report on accredited businesses. You can locate local trustworthy businesses by visiting upstatenybbb.org; and review other BBB Reliability Reports for nearly 4 million businesses across the country.
3. Always read the fine print. Know what you are giving and receiving at all times - especially for “free” trial offers. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB in 2009 after signing up for a “free” trial offer online that resulted in repeated charges to their credit or debit cards sometimes amounting to as much as hundreds of dollars every month.
Other online promotional offers have cost many consumers small and recurring charges from unfamiliar companies. Because of the low dollar amount, the charges may go unnoticed for some time. Read the terms and conditions of any “free” trial offer before handing over credit or debit card numbers.
4. Keep your computer safe. If you haven’t already, install anti-virus software onto your computer and don’t forget to regularly check for software and operating system updates and patches. Don’t open attachments or click on links in e-mails unless you can confirm the e-mail came from someone you trust.
5. Never wire money to someone you don’t know. Many scams require that the victim wire money back to the scammers. Scammers know that tracking money sent via MoneyGram or Western Union is extremely difficult. Even more troubling for victims is the fact that it’s nearly impossible to get your money back.
6. Fight identity theft. BBB says don’t just toss it, shred it! Here’s a short list to help you decide: Documents that include Social Security numbers, birthdates, PIN numbers or passwords, banking documents and other financial information, expired leases, contracts or letters that include signatures, pre-approved credit card applications, medical or dental bills, travel itineraries, used airline passes and any paper documents that include sensitive financial data.
Dispose of computers, cell phones and digital data safely. BBB hosts the annual Secure Your ID events nationwide, upstateny.bbb.org/secure-your-id/ to help you stay safe.
7. Ask BBB for help. File a complaint with your BBB at upstateny.bbb.org/Consumer-Complaints/ if you have a disagreement with a business or have been ripped off by a scammer.
8. Create a budget and stick to it. If you’re a cash-strapped consumer, setting a budget can help you stay afloat in 2010. BBB has advice on how to create a budget at upstateny.bbb.org/article/tips-on-how-to-develop-a-working-budget-653 to help you get out of debt and stay out of debt at bbb.org.
9. Fight fake check fraud. Thanks to advances in printing technology, scammers have the ability to create very real-looking phony checks. Educate yourself on the common types of check fraud at upstateny.bbb.org/article/billions-lost-from-common-check-scams-bbb-advice-on-best-defense-11752 and be extremely wary of checks that come with claims that you’ve won the lottery, are eligible for a government grant or have landed a job as a secret shopper.
10. Get everything in writing. Don’t just take a business’ word for it. Get every verbal agreement in writing to limit miscommunication and misunderstandings between your expectations and what the business delivers.
For more advice you can trust from your BBB, visit bbb.org. To schedule an interview with a BBB spokesperson, contact Peggy Penders at 800-303-4490.