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cash-jar-web.jpgBy Nicole Paitsel

RISMEDIA, January 22, 2009-(MCT)-Saving money with coupons, online research and clearance sales doesn’t do any good if you fall victim to a money scam. Here are some tips from Todd Haymore, the commissioner of the Virginia Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, on how to avoid scams this year.

Recognize phishing. In this scam, criminals send e-mails or pop-up messages asking you to provide personal information such as a Social Security number, account number, password or PIN number. If you are uncertain about the legitimacy of the contact, call the phone number on your financial statements or on the back of your credit card. Typically, a legitimate company will not ask for this information over the Internet. If you think you have been a victim of phishing, you can contact the Federal Trade Commission on their identity theft Web site, ftc.gov/idtheft or call 877-438-4338.

Watch out for false notifications of sweepstakes winnings, lotteries and check scams. There is no legitimate reason someone would send you a check or money order, ask you to cash it and then wire a portion back to them. You can check out information about bogus lotteries and sweepstakes at the United States Postal Inspection Service Web site, postalinspectors.uspis.gov, or contact the Virginia Office of Consumer Affairs (OCA) on the consumer protection hot-line at 800-552-9963.

Don’t buy into inflated claims by employment agencies. Disreputable companies often claim that they have special leads on hundreds of high-salaried jobs and charge consumers for a list of those jobs in advance. Before paying an advance fee, make sure you know what services the company will perform and what your obligations are. Get the refund policy in writing. Ask yourself whether the company is trying to sell you something that is free or already available, such as newspaper ads. Do not sign any contracts before you have read and understood them, and be particularly cautious if the company is pressuring you to sign a contract on the spot.

The commissioner also suggests these proactive steps to help protect yourself as a consumer.

Check your credit report annually for accuracy. The Fair Credit Reporting Act requires each of the nationwide consumer reporting companies _ Equifax, Experian and TransUnion _ to provide a free copy of your credit report once every 12 months, at your request. To order your credit report, visit annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228.

Reduce telemarketing calls. Put your cell phone and home phone numbers on the national “Do Not Call” registry. You can register online at donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 from the number you wish to register.

Opt-out of credit card solicitations and insurance policy offers. You can register for free by visiting optoutprescreen.com or calling 888-567-8688.

Take your name off of national solicitation mailing lists. Contact the Direct Marketing Association at dmachoice.org or write by mail to P.O. Box 643, Carmel, New York, 10512.

Check with the OCA before doing business. You can check the status of complaints against a company online at vdacs.virginia.gov/consumers (click on “searchable databases”) or call the consumer protection hot-line.

Verify charities. Before you donate to a charity, make sure it has registered with the OCA by visiting vdacs.virginia.gov/consumers (click on “charitable search”) or call the consumer protection hot-line.

© 2009, Daily Press (Newport News, Va.).
Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services.