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Top 10 Scams

January 14, 1998|CONNIE KOENENN

Such high-tech crimes as Internet identity theft may be dominating lawmakers' attention, but they haven't replaced the tried-and-true marketplace rip-offs. The California Department of Consumer Affairs offers this list of the Top 10 scams with the traditional warning: If it seems too good to be true, hang up the phone.

* Sweepstakes: "You've won $25,000!" Or a boat, or a car, or some other large item. But if you are asked to pay before you get your prize, it's a scam.

* Travel Scams: "Two weeks in Hawaii for $350!" Claims of inexpensive travel are easy to believe, because real bargains are available if you shop carefully. Check out all offers with a reputable travel agency.

* Gemstones: "Invest in gemstones with low risk and great return!" Usually you must rely on the seller for an "appraisal," which means the "gems" are probably worth very little.

* Recovery Rooms: "Been ripped off? We'll get your money back!" These operators get the names of people who have been defrauded in other scams and then call, claiming to be federal authorities who can help--for a fee. When the U.S. government sues scam artists, there is never a charge to return any money recovered.

* Business Opportunities: "Earn big money with vending machines" or by operating some other type of business. These outfits promise all the support you need. They even may suggest that you call others who have "done well" with the program. Too often the assistance is nonexistent and the references are shills who work for the promoter. Once consumers invest their money, they may learn there is no market for the business.

* Charitable Solicitations: "Donate to a good cause!" Often these calls are from crooks, sometimes claiming to be collecting on behalf of the police or the highway patrol. Stick with a known charity.

* Advance Free Loans: "We can get you a loan even if you have bad credit!" Someone who knows nothing about you but promises to get you a loan is probably running a scam--especially if he or she demands money up front.

* Toner Rooms: "Our records show we have not received your check for the copy paper we shipped you last month." These scam artists ship unsolicited, low-quality goods at high prices and try to bully companies into paying for them. Typical products include copier toner, copy paper, cleaning supplies and light bulbs. If your company receives unordered goods, don't pay. But do complain.

* Work-at-Home Plans: "Earn thousands a month working at home!" Claims that you can earn a major income working at home rarely can be supported. Check them out carefully before sending any money.

* Credit Repair: "Remove damaging information from your credit report!" The claim that anyone can remove truthful information from your credit report, for a fee, is not true. If your credit report has errors, you can get them corrected yourself without paying a fee. If you have credit problems, nonprofit organizations can help you rebuild your credit at no cost.

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