Saturday, July 2, 2011

Scams and how to identify them (updated)

Con Artists are Everywhere, out to get your money, through illegal and legal means.  Whether outright crooks who steal from you, or salesmen who offer you bad bargains, the net result is the same - you are snookered out of your money.


Note: This is an updated re-posting of an earlier posting.

I should not even have to add this posting to this blog. However, scam artists have proliferated in the last decade, no doubt aided and abetted by a laizze-faire administration and also the Internet.

While driving home the other day, I saw a sign on a lamp post that read, "Make executive salary from home! $10,000 per month! Call XXX-XXXX. Don't call if you don't believe!"

I almost laughed out loud at the last line, as it illustrated how these con artists work - they prey upon the BELIEF of the victim. As we know from religion, belief is something that is based on faith, and you can't argue faith logically. Thus, if you can get someone to BELIEVE something, there is no way of talking them out of it.

Here is a list of 5o-some-odd things that, in my opinion, are scams. Some of these seem so obvious they you'd wonder why I even mention them in the first place. The funny thing is, there are few, if any places on the Internet that spell out that YES, such-and-such is a scam, period.

Bear in mind that when I say "scam" I don't mean necessarily that it is illegal or fraudulent, but it could merely a bad bargain or excessively overpriced. Paying $5000 more than you should for a car is really not much different than having $5000 stolen from you at gunpoint. Either way, you are out $5000. The car salesman is considered a legitimate businessman. The fellow who mugs you is a criminal. If you can see the difference, let me know, because I surely can't.

Anyway, here's my list:

1. ANYTHING ADVERTISED ON A LAMP POST: And this goes for road sign posts and utility poles as well. They can be neatly printed signs or pieces of cardboard scrawled on with crayon. It makes no difference. A sign taped-up to a utility pole that says "Lose weight now! Call XXX-XXXX" is a scam, as are any job offers, work from home scams or anything else. Other than garage sales and lost dog notices, anything advertised on a sign taped to a lamp post is a scam, PERIOD.

2. Just about EVERYTHING advertised on TV: This category increasingly includes products embedded into the programs themselves. Many people mistakenly believe that in order to advertise on the television, your company has to be "vetted" by the TV station or that the FCC would screen out fraudulent or questionable deals. But this is not the case. And there certainly is no law against selling crappy junk or overpriced goods. Television blares the advertisements into your head, over and over again, until you start to believe that leasing a new SUV every three years "makes sense" because you (wrongly) believe that "everyone else does it". The best bargains are rarely, if ever, advertised on television. Most of what is advertised on TV is overpriced, as the advertiser has to pay the huge advertising fees - and mark up the product as a result. Television wants you to believe that a high-fructose corn syrup carbonated beverage is "refreshing" and that "lite" beer is "tastes great" and will not make you fat. Many invention brokers, credit repair agencies, payday loan places, and other bad bargains are regularly advertised on television. That does not make them good deals or endorsed by the television station. Once you STOP watching television, you can make more informed decisions. If it is advertised on TeeVee, is probably is no bargain.

3. The first three hits on GOOGLE: Google is a great tool for finding things, but increasingly, it is being shilled and sold out. The top hits on Google are usually paid advertisements that pop up whenever certain key words are typed. They are rarely good deals, and may in fact be con jobs. Google does not screen out the quality of their advertisers very well, if at all. A paid advert on Google is not some Housekeeping Seal of Approval. Even the unpaid hits are often bad choices. Keyword SPAMMING (putting keywords into metatext on a site) makes some websites move up in the rankings. Usually the con artists and the overpriced sellers use these techniques to snag sales.

4. Typo websites and weird agglomeration websites: You've seen these before. You mis-type a word in a Google search or in an URL and some other website comes up, offering helpful links to similar goods. These are usually scams or attempts to garner "referral" fees based on clicked links. In some instances, such sites may download malware to your computer. Avoid these at all costs.

5. Anything on a Pop-Up Ad. This should be self-explanatory. These are usually con jobs or bad deals. By clicking on a pop-up ad, you encourage more annoying pop-up ads. If pop-ups don't work, advertisers will stop using them. Install or activate your pop-up filter and DO NOT patronize any ad that makes it way through.

6. FINE PRINT: Car ads are famous for this. They shout about the "GREAT DEALS!" and then at the end of the ad, they flash paragraphs of text so small that only the largest Television could display them - and even then, only for a second or two. The announcer rips through the text so fast you can't understand him. In print, the text is at the bottom of the page and so small as to be barely legible. They do disclose the bad news, of course - the "GREAT DEAL" is just an OK deal if not an outright rip-off. Ask yourself this: If something was a good deal, there would be no need for "fine print" would there? Just walk away from fine print deals.

7. Classified Ads: At one time in our country, the classifieds were a good place to look for a job or buy or sell a car. No more. The Car dealers have Spammed the classifieds so much that you can't find a single listing for a car for sale by owner. Most owners have moved to Craig's list or Autotrader anyway. In addition to car dealers are the con-job ads for "Buy government auction cars for $50!" The employment section may rarely have one or two real ads for real local employers. But most of the ads are for "work at home" cons or "start a Candy Route". Very little is legitimate any more.  (Note:  You can buy government auction cars at this site, among others.   Look carefully, and you will see there are no screaming bargains out there.)

8. Work from Home, Candy Route, Own Your Own Business, etc.: All of these are scams, period. You cannot make millions working from home, or else everyone would do it. What they want you to do is pay for a "starter kit" or whatever, for a few thousand dollars. That's how these people make their money. You make nothing.

9. Multi-Level-Marketing, or MLM: These pyramid-like schemes have been around for ages. What they are selling is not the products (very little of that actually changes hands) but the "distributorships". The name "Multi-Level" comes from the scheme, where a distributor gets another distributor under them (who pays initiation fees and for the "starter pack") who in turn hires more distributors. As each product is sold to a customer, each person in the distribution chain gets a share of the profit. The problem with these schemes is that while a lot of distributorships are sold, little product is actually sold. Plus, since so many people are in the supply chain, the products are very overpriced when compared to convention retail outlets. There is not a lot of money to be made in selling things, period. Just walk away from MLM!

10. Anything Sold at a Seminar: You've gotten the flyers in the mail - come to our Real Estate seminar and you'll get a free barbecue grill, just for attending a 90-minute meeting! The "free" grill is a tin-foil job they sell in the grocery for three bucks. But that doesn't matter. What they are trying to do is sell time-shares or some other product. They use evangelical-like tactics, often with "shills" planted in the audience, to use mass-psychology to sell. It is very hard for most people to resist these sales techniques, so just don't go, period.

11. Time Shares: A total rip-off. People who have bought them will argue otherwise, as they don't want to admit they have been had. You pay a fee ($5,000 to $50,000) for a "week" at a "resort". If you added up all the "weeks" for that resort, you'd see that you were in effect, buying a million dollar condo, which might actually be worth only a quarter of that amount. In addition to the purchase price, you have to pay a yearly maintenance fee ($500 to $1500, which can go up at whim) which is equal to pretty much what it would cost to stay in a nearby motel. Some time-shares offer the option of swapping to other weeks or to other resorts, which is good, but usually for a small fee. You are still limited to where and when you can go on vacation, and if your financial condition changes, and you cannot go on vacation (or pay the fee) you lose the vacation week and possibly your interest in the time share. Time shares are difficult, if not impossible to sell, and if they do sell, they sell at greatly discounted prices. Take your vacation when and where you want to. In the long run, it is far cheaper and you have more control over your finances. You are not "saving" anything by buying a time share, period.

12. Unsolicited e-mails: Again this should be self-explanatory. An Oil minister in Nigeria is NOT going to send you THE SUM OF USD$10,ooo,ooo (TEN MILLION DOLLARS) through "certain modalities". SPAM advertisements for Viagra or "Rolodex Watches" are usually rip-offs as well. And no, you have not won a lottery you've never heard of or entered. It is all a come on! Just click on "this message is SPAM" and make sure your SPAM filter is ON.

13. Loud Billboards: On the way back from Florida last week (the only State that is an entire con-job, frankly) there were a series of fluorescent orange and yellow billboards for FLORIDA FRUIT STAND! JUST AHEAD! FREE JUICE! BAG OF FRUIT: $1.00!!! A good rule of thumb is that the louder and more obnoxious an advertisement is, the more likely it is a ripoff. The "free juice" of course is a small sample cup that contains maybe an ounce or two of liquid. The "bag of fruit" is not a huge bag of grapefruit, either. Again, they want you to stop. If you stop, you likely buy. So they will do anything to get you to stop.

14. MAKE MONEY IN REAL ESTATE: This falls under the SEMINARS category. They want to sell you a "system" for making money. There is no "system" and if you believe there is, you are an idiot. One of these hucksters actually advised people to buy Real Estate, over-mortgage it, and then take out the cash as a "profit". Borrowing money is not making a "profit." The only profits to be made in Real Estate are the old-fashioned ones: Buy low, sell high, rent for more than the monthly carrying cost. PERIOD.

15. PAYDAY LOANS, PAWN TITLE LOANS, etc.: Borrowing money on your paycheck or pawning your car title is never a good idea. Oftentimes the interest on these loans can exceed 30% or more. In some instances, people have paid well over 100% interest on such loans. These scams can ruin people financially. If you need money before payday, then you need to restructure your finances. A week or two is not a long time, and there is never a financial "emergency" that requires you borrow at such exorbitant rates for such short periods of time. PERIOD.

16. PYRAMID SCHEMES: Again, you'd think people would know about this by now. But the con artists keep coming up with new ways to rip people off. They call it the "money system" or some such name. Any time someone tries to sell you the idea that you can make money without work or without creating real wealth, run away. There is no such system to create wealth out of nothing. One "friend" of mine, years ago, tried to con me into sending a gold coin to a name on a chain letter. "Within weeks, you will receive gold coins from around the world!". Sorry, no sale. All that will happen is that you will be out a gold coin. I didn't fall for it, neither should you.

17. Anything selling you a "kit" or "system": Investment Gurus want you to buy their "investment kit" as do the Real Estate System scammers. You buy the "kit" and they make money, and you are a little bit (or a lot bit) poorer. Making money cannot be taught in a kit or a seminar or a book or a cassette tape set (remember those?). There is no "system" or "secret" to making money. If there were, no one would just tell you about it, they'd keep it for themselves and become fabulously rich. Just save your money, period. Don't buy the book or kit or seminar or whatever.

18. Day Trading: This falls under both Seminars and also the "kits". Buy our kit and you can start day trading stocks right away! Again, you cannot create wealth from a vacuum. Buying and selling stocks based on some arbitrary "system" that will make money on a daily basis just doesn't work. Why? Because if it did, everyone would be doing it. And if someone had the "secret" to such wealth, why on God's green earth would they SHARE it with ANYONE?

19. Anything on an Infomercial: This can be money making systems, kits, or even a potato peeler or vacuum cleaner. Are they total rip-offs? Well, if you watch Ron Popiel for a half hour and suddenly "decide" that you need a new set of steak knives or a toaster oven, is that a sound financial decision? Any logical purchase should be predicated on you deciding, independently, that you need a product first. Then, you should research the products and make an informed purchase. The infomerical flips this entire process. They get you to decide that you need THEIR product, and moreover that you should buy their product without any research or comparison shopping. Their half-hour spiel is touted as the research and comparison shopping ("these carbon steel chef's knives sell for 10 times more than our knives, and they can't cut through a penny!"). Turn off your teevee and stop buying this crap.

20. Anything on a Shopping Channel: See #19 above. Same deal. Shopping channels sell mediocre goods which you don't get to see up close. On TeeVee, they can make this stuff look good, but since you don't get the handle the goods yourself, you can never be sure. They use high pressure sales tactics ("only 10 left! This deal ends SOON! Call Now!") to encourage you to buy. And most of it is stuff that you had no intention of buying, but after an hour of watching, you get convinced it is a "deal". While working at UPS, the boxes from these home shopping channels (cheap boxes) would break open often, and I would get to see the merchandise and invoices. Most of the jewelry was costume jewelry worth little. And most of these shipments went to the same customers over and over again. People become ADDICTED to home shopping channels and squander thousands of dollars on this stuff. On the plus side, I never would have heard of such "precious" stones as "Tanzanite" if it were not for home shopping.

21. BUY GOVERNMENT AUCTION CARS FOR $50!: This scam is as old as the hills. They used to advertise in the Rolling Stone back in the 1970's, only back then it was Army Surplus Jeeps. My brother sent away the $5 money order for "more information" and in return received a mimeographed sheet that said, in effect, that if you want to buy an Army Surplus Jeep, you should call the Army and find out when and where they auction them off. They have updated the scam to list "Government DEA seized Drug Cars!!" which are probably sound more desirable to kids today. Does the government sell auctioned cars for $50? Yes, on occasion. But that is a car that caught fire and burned to a crisp. And you don't need to send these people money to find out where the auctions are. But even if you went to such an auction, chances are, there are few, if any deals to be had.

22. Auto Auctions: Buying a car under circumstances where you cannot inspect it or rationally think about pricing is ridiculous. Think about it. If you went to a used car dealer and they said "I'll sell you this car, but you have only 10 minutes to inspect it and 90 seconds to think about the price" you'd walk away and call the salesman a madman - or worse. Yet people buy cars at "auto auctions" all the time. Used car dealers routinely buy cars in bulk at wholesale auctions. However, these are usually not open to the public (you and me). Cars that go to wholesale auction are usually cars dealers take in trade that, for one reason or another, are not considered prime material for their own used-car lots. This is not to say they are junk all the time, only that they are rarely the prime choice cars. The cars sold at auto auctions open to the public are usually real junkers that even used car dealers shy away from. What a REAL DEAL in a used car? Buy one from the original owner (not some curbstoner) who took good care of it and has all service records. Private party sale car prices are usually 20-30% less than used car dealer sales prices and private party sale cars are in much better condition that any auction car.

23. Auctions in General: I've been to a number of auctions over the years. In most cases, I cannot point to any "bargains" I found, and in some cases, I was totally ripped off. To begin with, at an auction, you end up bidding sometimes on stuff you never had any intention of buying. You think "Oh, that's nice, I ought to have that" and you bid. But it is an impulse purchase, not a real need or desire for the item in question. Buying stuff on impulse, like all "shopping" is a really bad idea if you want to keep your finances in order. Auctioneers uses "shills" in the audience to make sure that nothing is sold for below market value or their predetermined set price. Once in a while, they let a piece go for cheap, usually to a shill, to get the crowd excited. But mostly, they sell for prices far over retail. Shills often work the crowd, acting as innocent bystanders and talking up the products. Many auctions these days are total come-ons for retail stores. They buy merchandise to auction off and then sell it at auction. One I recently went to consisted entirely of "antiques" manufactured in India and shipped over by the containerload. While they were not total garbage, they were far overpriced at auction. And nothing they were selling was anything I "needed" in the first place.

24. Rent to Own Furniture: These folks, like the pawn shops, paydayloans, and title pawn places, always proliferate in poor neighborhoods or near military bases. The premise is that you can rent, for a weekly fee, a television or other "desireable" consumer good, and have it now, and pay over time. They try to make it seem like a rational premise. One company even calls itself "Everybody Rents" as if to say that all the rich folks do this, why not you? Usually, this deal means paying even over consumer credit prices for goods of mediocre quality. You'd be better off using a credit card or household finance company instead. But these types of places prey upon the poor who have bad credit. You are far better off saving your cash and just buying what you really need at a big-box store somewhere else.

25. Freezer Scam: I have my hapless brother to thank for clueing me into this one. My poor brother managed to fall for nearly every scam there is. He is a rabid true believer! He went to work for a freezer scam place, working the phones in a "boiler room". He would call people and tell them he could sell them a whole side of beef, all cut up, for a very reasonable price - a price below retail in the supermarket. Some folks would bite on this hook. The catch was, where are you going to put a whole side of beef? Most folks don't have a freezer that large! So they sell you a freezer on installments for many times over its retail price. A fairly large freezer can be had for about the price of a similarly sized refrigerator. When you get done paying for the freezer and the electricity to run it, the "bargain" in the meat is long gone. My brother quit after a few months, as working in a telephone "boiler room" is no fun at all.

26. Unsolicited Phone Calls (Telemarketing Calls): #25 illustrates this next one. Anything sold through an unsolicited phone call is a bad proposition. Use the DO NOT CALL registry (http://www.donotcall.gov/) to put an end (mostly) to these calls. If someone calls you after you have registered with the registry, you KNOW they are a scam artist. Boiler room operators prey upon the elderly, who are often at home and tend to trust people. Perhaps this is a dying business in this day and age, with the internet and all, but I wouldn't count these folks out. Anything offered to you in an unsolicited phone call is something you didn't want in the first place (impulse shopping again) and is usually overpriced if not an outright rip-off. One sure way to tell if you are being scammed by a telemarketer is if they ask "How are you today?" right off the bat. This is from a script and designed to put you off and distract you - and gain your trust. As a polite person, you tend to want to respond with "fine, thank you" rather than "who the hell is this and what the frick do you want?" If you hear "How are you today?" just hang up.

27. Selling Vacuum Cleaners Door-to-Door (or buying them): Again, I have my brother to thank for educating me on this. After he left the freezer scam people, he answered a classified ad (see above) to sell vacuum cleaners door-to-door. The ad did not say that, of course, it said "management trainee" (a sure sign of a scam employment ad!). After a day-long seminar (see above) where religious-like training was instilled into the new hires (including singing the company song) they were sent out to sell the vacuum cleaners door-to-door. The product was not bad - in fact, it would be a decent product if they offered it in retail stores. But it was horribly overpriced - over $600 in 1980, which is a lot of money, even today. As you might imagine, most were sold in poor neighborhoods, usually on installments, which marked-up the price even further. Almost everything sold door-to-door is overpriced and not something you made a concious decision to purchase, research, and comparison shop.

28. eBay (or autotrader) seller scams: eBay can be a place to find a good bargain, althogh increasingly it is becoming just a place to find stuff at OK prices. It can be a good place for you to unload your own stuff, too. but beware, there are scammers out there. One scam is the phoney auction. The scammer advertises a desireable consumer item worth maybe $10,000 to $30,000 for less than half the price. Kubota tractors, Honde CBR 500 motorcycles, BMW 3-series cars, Harley Davidson Motorcycles, etc. are typical of the genre. The auction might ask you to contact them directly (their eBay e-mail is "broken") and mysteriously, the auction has only a few hours or a day left on it. You e-mail them, and they ask you to wire $5000 to the UK or Canada or somewhere overseas. They may tell you to send it with a "security password" so the money cannot be released until you receive the car, which they claim they will ship to you by 'air freight". Often there is a convoluted story about how the car belonged to a deceased brother or something. Usually there are glaring descrepencies between the picture of the car and the description as well. Yes, these are stupidly obvious rip-offs. Yes, hundreds, if not thousands of people fall for these every month. eBay tries to police them, but cannot be everywhere at once. The scammers are moving to Autotrader and other vehicle selling sites as a result of increased policing on eBay. If it sounds too convoluted and too good to be true, walk away. NEVER buy a car without seeing it in person first!

29. eBay (or AutoTrader) Buyer Scams (the Cashier's Check Scam): You decide to sell your car or boat on eBay and you get an e-mail. The buyer will pay your asking price, no questions asked, but wants the car shipped overseas. They will send you a money order or cashier's check for the full amont, plus $3000 in shipping. They ask you to wire the money to a 3rd party (usually in Canada or Africa) to pay the shipping. Two weeks later, you find out the cashier's check was a bad forgery and you are out the $3000 you wired overseas. And no, they are not interested in stealing your car, just your $3000, thank you. Again, if it sounds too good to be true (someone willing to buy your car at asking price, sight unseen, and willing to send you more than the asking price) then it probably IS too good to be true! Walk away.

30. Religious Scams (overseas): People of faith are often victims of scam artists. Again, belief is based on faith, which cannot be argued logically. As a result, belivers can be easily scammed. Some African scammers have ripped-off churches in America, asking for funds to build schools or pay for medical care. Usually, the appeals come by e-mail, but they can come by regular mail or ven a phone call or fax. Well-meaning Christians raise money for these worthy causes and send it overseas without much vetting of the destination of this lagress. Only later on (if ever) do they realize that the money they sent overseas bought someone a Mercedes and was not used to help prevent blindness amongst the orphans. Just because you are a Christian, doesn't mean you have to be a patsy as well.

31. Religious Scams (domestic): Again, it is easy to prey on the faithful. While many churches do much good in the world, there are a small number of churches that are little more than money-making operations for their founders. It is not hard to spot these churches - the founders are well dressed, wear lots of gold jewelry, and travel the world by private jet. Well, OK, I guess that describes the Pope, too. But at least he is the head of a huge world-wide operation. These scammers ask little old ladies, often through their teevee evangelistic hours, to tithe or pledge - often sums of money they can ill-afford to spend. Rather than send off money to a remote church on television, check our your local established churches and find out what the money they want goes to. You'd be better off giving money to a local church that sponsors youth groups, homeless shelters, and other support agencies in your area, than to buy some teevee pastor a new Rolls Royce.

32. Mailings that are faked-up to look like a government check or other official mailing: You've seen these, they have the statue of libery on the cover and look like a refund check. You open it up and its a credit card offer. When considering any product offer sent to you in a deceptive package, ask yourself this: What direction is aabusiness relationship founded on deception heading?

33. Patent Renewal Services: See #322 above. They send you a post card or letter that sounds like and looks like it is from the Government. For $110 they offer to "renew" your Patent. If you read the fine print, for the $110 fee they are agreeing to send you the form only. You can pay these fees online yourself at http://www.uspto.gov/ or download the form there for free. And the lowest maintenance fee (first) is well over $400 by now, besides.

34. Invention Brokers: They promise to patent your invention and make you millions. They use boiler room telephone techniques to pressure you into signing a contract with them for "only" $10,000 or so. The patent they obtain (if at all) is of limited or no value. Their "marketing" comprises little more than mailing brochures to a mailing list. They are NOT interested in stealing inventions. They will, however, keep your money.

35. TimeShare Resale services: If you bought a time share, you are a patsy, so why not victimize you yet again? They send you a letter saying they have a buyer for your timeshare and if you send them $500 they will hook you up. You send them $500 and your timeshare gets listed in a resale directory that may or may not be distributed to folks. Needless to say, there is not much of a resale market for these worthless "investments".

36. The Poetry Scam: They hit up little old ladies with this one. The America Poetry Authors Club Society or some such organization has heard all about your poems! They woudl like to publish your poem in an upcoming issue of their annual gazette! The catch is, you have to agree to buy X copies of this gazette at $200 apiece. You are, in effect, paying for publication of your poem. It has not been selected on its merits, only on your ability to pay. Note: There are legitimate poetry societies and clubs out there, but they don't ask for money up front like this.

37. The Electric Scooter Scam: You've seen the loud and obnoxious ads on TV (see above). You can get a FREE electric scooter (wheelchair) to drive around, and Medicare will pay for the whole thing! Just call now! However, if you read the FINE PRINT (see above) you'll realize that if you agree to this scam, and medicare doesn't pay for the scooter, then you are on the hook for the whole purchase price - often twice what the going rate for these things truly are. If you are having trouble walking, oftentimes walking is the best cure. A more sendentary life is not going to make your more active. And medicare doesn't pay for squat these days.

38. The OTHER Electric Scooter Scam: These are folks who sell two-wheeled electric scooters online for prices so low they are unbelievable! That's because they are fake prices. They take your money and.... no scooter!

39. LEASING a CAR: The ads on TV (see above) tout the GREAT DEALS you can get on leasing a new car. But if you read the FINE PRINT (see above) you'll realize that you are limited to less milage per year than is reasonable, and that all sorts of fees are due on signing, your trade-in is considered a "capital reduction" and when you turn the car in, you have to pay fines for scratches and "excess wear". After three years of car payments, you are WALKING. For the same three years of car payments, you could have bought the same car, secondhand, and own it free and clear by now.

40. EXTENDED WARRANTEES (Appliances): You buy a $200 television and they try to sell you an "extended warranty" for $39.95. Is it worth paying nearly 1/5 the price of the item for an additional year or two of "gurarantee"? Most modern electronics either fail during the initial warranty period (infant mortality) or last their expected lifetime. They are least likely to fail during the extended warranty period. You are better off just taking you chances. The most you will be out is $200!

41. EXTENDED WARRENTEES (Cars): After the initial warranty period is over, you get a card in the mail that appears to be from the car company (but is not) offering an extended warranty. If the company is an outright con, the warranty is worthless. Even the "legitimate" companies resist paying out claims, or require a byzantine procedure for filing claims that can never be complied with. Most cover things that NEVER wear out, like axles and crankshafts. They are hughely marked up by used car dealers. The best warranties are from the factory (manufacturer). But beware, even your new car dealer might try to sell you an extended warranty that is from some unknown third party that goes bankrupt a year later. If you buy an extended FACTORY warranty, make sure it is the real deal. A better bet is to put that money in the bank and save it for repairs down the road. At worst, you'll break even if something major goes wrong. If not, you'll come out way ahead.

42. Tax return loans: Paying 25% interest to get an advance on your tax return should be self-explanatory. If you can't wait a few weeks for the IRS to cut you a check, you have severe financial problems.

43. Cable Television: Cable TV is overpriced for what you get, and it is designed to keep you watching so they can sell your "eyeballs" to advertisers. You are PAYING to be advertised to. The people who are involved in Cable TV come from some colorful backgrounds and are not averse to questionable dealings. One of the all-time classic Cable TV con-jobs happened when Congress got into the action and decided to impose a cap on basic cable fees, becasue they were skyrocketing. Cable TV providers would have to provide "basic" cable service for a discounted flat fee. How did Cable respond? Simple. They raised all their rates by the "flat fee" and called it a "Government mandated fee increase". Nice touch! In addition, they took most of the former "basic" channels out of basic cable and made them part of a "tier 1" service that you'd have to pay extra for. You know, it takes real brass balls to take a law designed to LOWER Cable rates and spin it into a rate increase. If that isn't enough to make you vomit, consider this: When satellite dishes became popular in the 1980's, "concerned citizens" flocked to zoning board meetings to demand a ban on these "public eyesores". Of course, the "concerned citizens" were all employees of the cable companies. Now ask yourself this, why are you giving these guys $70 to $150 a month so you can get fatter and fatter and waste more and more of your time? Pull the plug on TeeVee, period - and live. Wealthy and effective people DO NOT watch television! The people who are ON TELEVISION do not watch television. That should be all you need to know.

44. Tax Protesters (or Tax Deniers): These folks sell seminars (see above) and books saying that you don't have to pay Federal Income tax, you know, because it is unconsititutional! They take words out of context, or quote parts of the tax code aimed at foreign corporations and then claim they apply to you. They don't. Federal tax is not "voluntary" and it has been held by the Supreme Court to be Constitional. Again, this is faith-based economics, based on BELIEF and not hard facts. They make a lot of money selling you books and seminars - a lot of money out of your MISERY. I had a friend try this scam. Smart guy, too, or so I thought. Yes, both the Federal and State tax authorities came after him and put a lien on his house and garnished his wages. Two things are unavoidable in life, death and taxes. You can wish both away all you want, they both still come due.

45. PONZI Schemes: A Ponzi scheme is one in which the con artist promises investors huge returns on their money - 20%, 30%, 50% or more. He takes in investments and after a few months pays off the initial investors with dividends equal to 25% of their money. WOW! What a great return on your investment! But the money paid out is just part of what is now coming in. The "satisfied investors" stories are used to con more people into the deal. Eventually, the whole thing collapses, as it is a pyramid scheme (see above) and once people stop investing, no "dividends" can be paid out. These schemes go back decades, if not a century or more. Yet new ones pop up even today. People are still greedy and willing to believe anything that defies the law of economic gravity.

46. LOTTERY TICKETS: Buying a lottery ticket once or twice a year is never going to bankrupt you. However, many poor folks purchase these tickets $20 at a time. The smaller "scratch and win" cards prey upon people's need to gamble. They "win" a free ticket or a dollar or two just often enough to make it seem like they might make money at it. In the long run, the law of probability is inflexible. For every dollar you put into the lottery, you might get out 10 cents. If you keep playing long enough, you'll lose every dollar you put in.

47. GAMBLING: They prefer to call it "Gaming" as that doesn't sound so bad. But it is bad, and can ruin lives, marriages, and families. It is hugely profitable and organized crime is inevitably involved. Again, the law of probability rules supreme. If you take $100 into a Casino, you are going to come out with less, perhaps nothing. Talk all you want about free drinks and "compted" meals - you paid for those "freebies" many times over. Gamblers will regale you with tales of "hitting the jackpot" but live in denial about the tens of thousands of dollars they have frittered away over the years (if not hundreds of thousands). If you can't understand why Gambling with money is a really bad idea, you are a moron or just trying to be deceptive, PERIOD.

48. Home Refinancing: It is hard to even get a mortgage these days. But back in the day, mortgage brokers, particularly those on the internet, would offer to refinance your home and reduce your monthly payment. Sounds like a good deal, until you realize you've just added several years to the term of your mortgage, increased the balance of your mortgage to pay all their "garbage fees" and moreover their lower monthly payment is only part of a "teaser rate" that will double in a few years, forcing you out of your own home. How many people are now paying the ultimate price for THIS con?

49. Perpetual Going-Out-Of-Business Sales: I lived in Alexandria Virginia for 20 years. The whole time I was there, there was a rug merchant who was running a FINAL! GOING OUT OF BUSINESS SALE! For 20 years. Nothing in his store was a particular bargain. He did the usual rug merchant trick of trying to sell synthetic fiber machine made carpets at hand-loomed wool prices. Again, any business deal predicated on a LIE (they are going out of business perpetually) is sure to lead nowhere. If they lie to you from the get-go, chances are they are screwing you later on.

50. Particle Board Furniture Sold on Installments: You've seen their LOUD advertisements on the TV (see above). You've seen their fine print ads in the newspaper (see above). Acme Furnture warehouse is having a weekend blowout going-out-of-busness sale! You go to the warehouse and they have all sorts of shiny furniture - most of it gaudy stuff that looks more at home in a bordello, but that poor people think looks "rich". It is cheaply made of particle board and far overpriced. The dealer offers high interest rate financing (and gets a cut of that action as well). Oftentimes by the time the loans are paid off, the furniture has delaminated and is falling apart. Suprisingly, many folks go back to the same dealer and buy new furniture and start over again, having learned nothing. Quality furniture can last a lifetime. And you have a lifetime to accumulate it, so don't feel the need to furnish your house all at once and go into debt.

51. Health discount plans - these are not health insurance, and are usually sold over the phone by telemarkers who may or may not be upfront with whether they are in fact not a health insurance plan. One site boldly prints that they are NOT health insurance, and by the way, fees paid are NOT refundable. So if you sign up and change your mind, too bad! Discount fees can be had by purchasing regular health insurance, even if you have a high deductable. For the dollars spent on a "discount" plan, you'd be better off spending it on a traditional health insurance plan. Most of these plans are sold by folks who "buy in" to become "work at home" salespeople. Can you make money selling these plans? Perhaps, but you'll have to find a lot of gullible people to make much.

52. Pre-paid legal services plans: Again, these are not necessarily fraudulent, but do you really need them? Consider that most people will never consult with an attorney in their lifetime, and you are paying a lot of money over the years for something you may never need. One of these services approached me, asking if I wanted to be part of their plan. However, the amount they paid for services was so low that I could not imagine making any money at it. Put your money in the bank into a savings plan. If you need money for a lawyer, you'll have it. If you don't need a lawyer (more likely than not) you'll have the money. Most of these plans are sold by folks who "buy in" to become "work at home" salespeople. Can you make money selling these plans? Perhaps, but you'll have to find a lot of gullible people to make much.

53. ANYTHING with a "negative option" cancellation policy: You sign up for a service, such as internet access, and they want to bill your credit card for the service. IN order to cancel, you have to call them and cancel. You call, they don't cancel, and surprise, they have no record of your earlier call. In some instances, you have to cancel your credit card to get them to stop billing you. Another twist is the "3 months free trial" - which of course, requires a credit card number to activate. If you fail to cancel the "free trial" during a certain time window, they charge your card for the full three months and then continue to charge forever. Granted, some services do require credit card billing. But shy away from using anything that requires credit cards as the only form of payment. Some savvy people online use a separate "throwaway" credit card for such services - one that can be cancelled and discarded if an on-line provider doesn't take "NO" for an answer.

54. Credit Repair Scams: These folks claim that they can "repair" bad credit. In reality, they are usually trying to get you to borrow more money, at high interest rates to consolidate debt, or for a fee, they claim they can make repairs to your credit record. The only "repairs" you can make to your credit record are ones you can make yourself. Save your money, or use it to get out of debt. There is no magic bullet to repairing bad credit.

55. Credit Monitoring or Protection Scams: For a monthly fee, they claim they will monitor your credit or protect you from "identity theft" which is a largely overstated phenomenon. You are already protected from most of these risks by ordinary credit card protections. The additional amount spent, over time, would be better spent on investment or paying down debt.

56. Your Free Credit Score: You can get a REALLY free credit score at: https://www.annualcreditreport.com/cra/index.jsp. But the "free" credit reports hyped online require you to sign up for a credit monitoring service for $10 a month - or more. Forgetabout these come-on websites. Get the real deal - you are entitled to it under the law.

57. Mortgage Life Insurance: If you get a mortgage or refinance your house, you'll get solicitations in the mail from companies offering to "insure" your mortgage, so if you die, the balance of the mortgage will be paid off. All for only a few dollars a day! The problem with this coverage is that it is very expensive for the coverage involved. You can buy a term policy for a half-million dollars for far less - and such a policy will not decline in payoff over time.

58. Auto Loan Insurance: Same deal as Mortgage Life Insurance but an even bigger rip-off. For a "few dollars a month" you are buying a life policy with a term of 36-72 months (the term of your loan) with a declining balance as time progresses. For the cost of one of these policies, you could easily buy $100,000 in real life insurance. And besides, once you're dead, who cares about your car payments?

59. Fake Charities: They appeal to you by phone (telemarketing call) and may have similar-sounding names to real charities. Or they appeal by mail, internet, or on the television. One of the latest scams is to use your own neighbors to "fundraise" for you. They get your neighbor sucked into the scam, and then get them to solicit donations from you as well. A fake charity can be distinguished from the "real" deal in that the fake ones spend only a token amount on the charity, with the bulk being spent on "fundrasing" and "overhead". In other words, someone is drawing a nice salary from your donation, but that's about it. There is little way for the average person to distinguish from fake and real charities without a lot of legwork. The best solution is to find a charity you think is worthy, research it, and then donate to that charity with money, like donations, and your time. When others call or knock on the door, you can say "No" to them with a clear conscience.

60. Employment Scams: In addition to Work-at-home scams and other classified ad scams, another employment scam also exists. These promise a job interview with a good company for a high-paying job. The problem is, they want you to fly out there on your own ticket for the interview. Instead of asking you to fly out and get reimbursed, or sending you a ticket, they ask you to send them money so they can buy the ticket, and then promise to repay you once you show up. Needless to say, this is not a standard way of doing business with most companies. Most companies will buy the ticket and mail it to you, or tell you to buy your own ticket and then reimburse you. No legitimate company asks for cash money from you in advance in order to conduct a job interview, period.

61. The Hot Tub and Pool Table Store: In every major metropolitan area, there is a store, usually in the suburbs, selling hot tubs and pool tables. They advertise heavily on the television and radio and offer "low, low prices" on hot tubs and pool tables. When you ask what the price is, they say "$99 amonth!". They want you to finance the purchase through expensive consumer financing (20-30% interest) which they get a "taste" of as well. Hot Tubs and Pool Tables are not very expensive items - they certainly don't cost as much as a car, that's for sure. But after you've made all the payments, you could have bought an inexpensive car for the same amount. Walk away from these "deals" and look for the same item lightly used or from a legitimate dealer or store. Chances are, you'll pay HALF of what the loud-ad place charges. We bought a brand new hot tub from a lady who ran a business out of a storage locker. I think we paid $2500 for it. That was 12 years ago and it still runs great. The Scam place wanted $6500 for the same tub, but offered low, low monthly payments. Buying anything based on monthly payment is a bad, bad idea.

62. RV shows and Boat Shows: Along these lines are the RV and Boat shows. Imagine getting people to PAY to go look at consumer goods. Ridiculous idea, right? Yet people do, every year in every town. And dealers show up to hawk their wares, with "Show Specials" that encourage you to "BUY NOW!!!" because the laws of physics dictate that the price has to go up after the show is over, right? People look at Boats and RVs and think they are expensive items and overpay for them. They also don't think about where they are going to store them or how they are going to use them. They just seem so nice at the show. It is a common story one hears in the RV and boat business - "I bought it at the show, and we used it twice and didn't like it". Now they owe more on it than it is worth and can't unload it. Skip the shows, or, if you go, leave your checkbook and credit cards behind and just LOOK. Research big-ticket purchases like this over time, and look at the prices of secondhand units, if nothing else but to give you an idea of how rapidly these things depreciate.

63. Free $250 Gift Card! Again, one wonders why people continue to believe you can get something-for-nothing. The sites that promote these "free gift cards" ask you to take an online survey (usually just for appearance sake) and then to sign up for one or more (usually three) online offers from participating advertisers. These services are charged to your credit card (or your phone bill) and are difficult, if not impossible, to cancel. The free gift card is often slow in coming (the rules usually state you must sign up for the bogus services for at least 30 days) if they come at all. If someone offers you something for "free", chances are it has no value to begin with, or it is an outright scam. Just walk away.

64. Anything Advertised in the Smithsonian Magazine: I get this magazine as a gift subscription, and while the quality of the articles has improved somewhat in recent months, the advertisments in the magazine are nothing short of scandalous. Targeted at the older set, these ads, which are made to look like articles (with the word "advertisement" in small letters) sell everything from cheap watches to non-collectable collector coins, all at inflated prices. Again, any business transaction predicated on a LIE is going nowhere but SOUTH. So an advertisment for coins from "The Gov't Mint" (always "Gov't" never "Government") that is made to look like an article is based on a minor deception to begin with. So do you think the deal is legitimate? Just as many older people believe that anything advertised on television is "vetted" by the stations or networks, many older people trust magazines (like Smithsonian and others) that the advertisements are for quality and reasonably priced products. However, other than culling out the outright frauds (people who take your money and give you nothing in return) most magazines do little to police or screen their advertisers, simply because they can't afford to lose the ad revenue. Buyer beware!

65. Sell Your Car For You Scam (Craig's List): If you list yoru car for sale on Craig's list (and increasingly, Auto Trader) you may get an unsolicited phone call from a fellow in Nevada offereing to help you sell your car for you. They make verbal promises about markeing your car on a number of websites, offering links to financing, and helping you "price" your vehicle. The catch is, of course, they want as much as $500 up front, which is a lot of money for the resale of any car. And guess what? Once you send this fellow your money, you'll never hear from him again. If you really want to sell the car, lower the price by $500 instead. It it ain't selling, try adding better pictures and description, and then lowering your price slightly. Check the private party resale values (not dealer retail) on kbb.com nadaguides.com and edmunds.com to make sure you are being realistic. The used car business is in the tank right now, so cars are hard to sell unless priced right.

66. The White Van Speaker Scam: Two young guys offer to sell you a pair of high-quality speakers or a home theater system for an astonishingly small amount of money - inferring that they may in fact be stolen. They claim to be deliverymen, and the warehouse "over-ordered" them. The system is worth only $20 to $50 (if that) and you end up with useless garbage that you overpaid for. The Police tell you to take a hike. You are out $200 to $500. See my other posting on this subject as well.

67.  New Credit Repair Scam:  There is a new credit repair scam that promises desperate people that they can "get out from under" debts.  These con artists ask for several thousand dollars up front, and then tell you to stop paying your bills, and instead to pay them and put the money in "escrow".  The theory is, the creditors will eventually sell off the debt to collection agencies, who in turn will accept pennies on the dollar for the debt, which the "escrow" will pay.  But of course, this destroys your credit rating and you may end up getting sued and going bankrupt. And you may end up having wages garnished (which could cause you to lose your job) or a lien put on your house.  The agency keeps your money, of course. And now you are bankrupt, unemployed, homeless, and have no credit whatsoever.

68.  Free Energy Audits:  You register with the Federal Do Not Call Registry, to eliminate pesky telemarketer calls.   Someone calls you anyway, and claims they are not a telemarketer, and are not subject to the Do Not Call act.  The are lying.  They say or imply they are from the Government and you are entitled to free money or they can cut your energy bill in half "and wouldn't you like that?"  They offer to do a home "energy audit", but are selling overpriced insulation or storm windows.  Just hang up - they are violating the Do Not Call law, so you know they have no scruples, whatsoever.

69.  Robo-Calls Concerning Credit Cards:   Sometimes they make a robo-call, purporting to be from the "Card Services" or a Credit Card Company (they guess at your card company name, and if you bite, they win).   They say your card was stolen, will you please provide the card number, name on the card, expiration date and security code as "verification" that they are speaking to the right person?  Yup, scam. Or they say they can offer you a discounted interest rate (well below even the lowest rates available) on a Credit card.  Press "9" for more information!  And then they will ask for your existing card number to "roll over" the balance to the new card!  They just steal your credit card information and leave you with nothing.

70.  Cramming & Slamming:  In the old days, people used to call and get you to say the word "Yes" which they would then record and then "slam" you to an expensive long-distance service, which you might not notice until the next billing cycle.  Some companies were fined heavily for this.  Others attempt to "cram" services onto your phone bill, for example, by saying they will pay you for a survey or say you have to sign up for the service to enter a contest  - but can cancel within 30 days! (negative option - good luck with that).  Call your carrier and ask them to lock your long-distance provider and to lock out any cramming services.  These should be free services.  And read your bill carefully - you have 30 days to contest slammed services.

71.  Free Puppy Scam:   This is a variation on the Craigslist and eBay scams, where they advertise a non-existent product at an unreasonably low price.  You contact the seller and they give you a long-winded story about leaving the country or whatever, and offer to ship you the $2500 purebred puppy for "free", provided you wire them $400 by Western Union.  You wire them the money, and that is the last you hear from them.    Never wire anything by Western Union, ever, ever, ever!

72. Check Cashing Stores:   If you are "unbanked" a helpful check cashing store will offer to cash your paycheck or other check for you for a fee of $25 to $30.   This is idiotic.  It takes only minutes to set up an account with a real bank, or to cash your paycheck at the bank that issues it.   Paying 10% to cash your paycheck is a ripoff.   And no, it is not just illegal immigrants doing this - many poor folks are afraid of banks.



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Now some of you are saying, "Gee, isn't this list kind of harsh? Maybe there IS a good deal on time shares out there! My cousin Ned made money on a Candy Route! And maybe that Russian Viagra site won't steal my credit card number!" Maybe. Maybe. But I doubt it. If you are so predisposed to BELIEVE in these sort of things, you are Grade A prime meat for these con-artists.

And the real "true believers" out there will never heed good advice - they will keep falling victim to scam after scam, and never learn from their mistakes.

Most of these scams have a number of things in common:

1. The "something for nothing" mentality: The idea that somehow you can make money without working or adding value to the process. People who don't understand money always fall for this. TANSTAAFL! There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch! Remember that.

2. High pressure sales pitches: Buy now or lose a good deal forever! Cons do not want people to think over an investment, or worse yet, consult with friends and family who will point out the obvious flaws in the deal and flaws in their thinking.

3. Relying on people's misunderstanding of how money works or what it is: Some folks think money is like the weather. Some days it pours and other days you have a drought. Where money comes from and how some folks end up with more is a mystery to them. To them, some folks are "lucky" and get rich, and other folks (themselves) are "unlucky" and are poor. Their actions have nothing to do with their situation, in their minds.

4. Preying upon the Greed of the Mark: "All good cons prey upon the Greed of the Mark" (A quote from the movie The Sting). The "Mark" is the victim, and if you can get the victim to believe that somehow HE is the one ripping YOU off, then you can fleece him all day long and he'll never even know he's been had until it is too late.

5. Business Deals Predicated on a LIE: They use a deceptive envelope, phone call, e-mail, or "sale" to get your interest or get their foot in the door. Having lied to you once, don't act all surprised when they lie to you again and again. Just walk away from deceptive people. They've played their card right up front. You have only yourself to blame in thinking that you can outwit them.

Making wise purchases and managing your money means avoiding the temptation of the something-for-nothing mentality or the "I have to have it NOW!" mentality. Over-hyped products and services are usually never worth what they are asking for them. Financial decisions, including purchasing, have to be made in a calm and collected manner - if you want to accumulate wealth rather than squander it.

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