Published on Wednesday, 30 November -0001 00:00
Scams during the month of December are usually focused on giving to a charitable cause, buying something for the holidays or winning the chance for a sweepstakes prize. December and January are one of the most critical times of the year to be alert to the selling tactics of scam artists. Telephone, mail, Internet and word of mouth all bring the opportunity to be scammed. Any product marketer understands a consumers desire to get a bargain. They also know how to break our hearts for a worthy cause or entice us to spend money on a product that could be gone tomorrow. The question becomes, can I tell when marketing becomes a scam? For example, a good deal usually comes in no-contract form. Such as, "buy one to get one free" offers. You have essentially purchased each item for half price and it makes sense if you need two items. A free product isn't really free if you are also required to sign a contract for one year's worth of product service. These kinds of offers should sound an alarm with you. Responsible marketers will disclose all costs prior to a purchase and give you time to make an informed decision. Consumers can use this time to compare offers and decide whether or not the free or any other aspect of the offer is really worth it. Scam artists usually bury information disclosures in the fine print or just leave it out of the conversation altogether. For example, some sweepstakes offers include disclosure information written in such fine print that reading it is very difficult-especially for older adults. December and January are a prime time for the marketing calls about winter vacations-usually those offering free hotel for full-priced airfare. Other "deals" might provide travel vouchers that are often very difficult or impossible to use. If you get contacted for a vacation special, get all of the details-not just verbally, but in writing as well. Typically, requiring written materials will help you determine the real from the fake and scam artists usually don't have written information to send you. Wise consumers know the warning signs of a scam: Piles of junk mail for contests, free trips, prizes and sweepstakes. Frequent telephone calls that offer money-making opportunities or seek charitable contributions. Frequent mailings that include inexpensive items in exchange for prizes or contributions. If you are a recipient to these warning signs, be concerned. Many people may be convinced that these offers are legitimate, when in reality they may have fallen victim to a scam through the use of their resources. Money lost to a scam is usually very difficult or impossible to recover. You can protect yourself and others. When you suspect a scam, contact the Attorney General's Office in your state. In Minnesota, call (800) 657-3787 and report any activity that you feel is fraudulent. You can also add your name and that of others to the national "Do Not Call" list by going to www.donotcall.gov/. Being alert to scams and taking action to eliminate consumer scams is everyone's responsibility. Shirley Anderson-Porisch works as a family resource management Extension educator at the University of Minnesota and is an expert in family finance. She has long been a media contributor and is an accredited financial counselor.