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Financial scams: Beware of strangers offering help

Written by Diane Archer

Financial scams abound.  Recently, the Federal Trade Commission shut down two computer scam operations that allegedly tricked people out of $120 million. The scammers prey on people in all kinds of ways — first building trust, then offering “help” and then asking for money.  Here are three things you should never do.

1.  Don’t give strangers your social security number, credit card information or bank account information under any circumstances. A scammer might call or e-mail you to say you have a problem that he can fix for you if you provide him this information. If you don’t know the caller, you should not disclose this information.  If in doubt, ask the caller for his name and phone number, discuss the issue with someone you trust, or call your local police department for advice.

2.  Don’t wire money to anyone without first checking with someone you trust. A scammer might call or e-mail, impersonate a family member or friend, and claim she needs an immediate wire transfer of money. Scammers can sound like a family member, a friend or even a legitimate charity. If you’re inclined to help, ask the caller for her name and phone number, discuss the issue with someone you trust, and confirm that the request is legitimate.

3.  Don’t give strangers access to your computer. A scammer might call or e-mail you, claim he is from a computer company, and offer to clean up your computer files or remove a computer virus. The scammer is trying to gain remote access to the personal information stored on your computer files, which he can do if you give him your computer passwords.

These are classic scams.  If you’re wondering whether an email you receive is for real or the person on the other end of the phone is telling you the truth, go to www.snopes.com.  Type in the nature of the email or phone call you received and see if it pops up. Snopes should tell you if it is a common scam. WISER, the Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement, offers a checklist of common scams.

And remember: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

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