What You Need to Know to Avoid New Year's Resolution Scams

Posted on 01/29/20

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Aiming for a better you in 2020? Don't let these common New Year's resolutions lead you to benefit scammers instead.

Losing weight. A thinner wallet is all you'll get with products "guaranteeing" results or making specific claims ("lose 30 pounds in a month"). Add fake customer testimonials and "free trials" that end before you even get the product and you've got one of the top categories of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission. And some of the "miracle weight loss products" can actually damage your health.

Better: Eat less and exercise more in a safe and realistic one pound-per-week loss program. Get started at MyPlate.gov.

Helping others. Good intentions are great for charity scammers, and schemes bilking the most from older donors involve fake help for police and fire organizations, children, veterans and victims of whatever disaster you've been hearing about in the news.

Before donating, ask for authenticating paperwork and check the group's legitimacy at give.org, guidestar.org or charitynavigator.org. Beware of soundalike names of well-known groups and requests for personal information or credit card numbers over the phone. (Also, don't trust what you see on Caller ID — scammers can manipulate it.) Assume that email solicitations are scams unless you previously provided your address to the group. When donating online, type in the address of the organization's website yourself, rather than relying on links promising to guide you there.

Getting a better job. Maybe one of your New Year’s resolutions is to find a new job. With those days of seeking employment through classified ads behind us, most of us opt for searching for work online. And of course, there are a plethora of companies that vow to make this journey less stressful by directly connecting employers to potential employees. Don't send money to solicitors offering quick hiring for "previously undisclosed government jobs."

Avoid work at home scams. Identifying work-from-home scams can be tricky, especially as they often appear alongside legitimate opportunities on popular job-search websites. Don't pay for kits that promise easy money working from home.

Other signs of job scams: email offers with a non-corporate email account or online postings requesting upfront personal info such as Social Security and financial account numbers. Likewise, beware of requests for money to conduct "background checks" or to buy computers or "supplies." Watch out also for jobs in which you receive payments and then forward a portion. And, of course, be wary of positions that offer to pay far better than the realistic ranges that you can find at salary.com and glassdoor.com.

As you consider options to make money, be sure to steer clear of pyramid scams and certain multi-level marketing schemes.

You're more likely to advance through education, networking and help from a reputable employment agency. As for government jobs, apply for free at usajobs.gov.

Making new friends. Be careful if you do it online, where bogus romances cost victims $56 million last year; women 50 and older were the group duped most often by money-requesting cyber sweethearts. Turn away from friendly folks on the phone who say you've won a lottery. And watch out for smooth talkers at "free lunch" seminars touting no-loss investments or no-charge help with paperwork related to benefits and pensions.

The best protection? Make friends the old-fashioned way at face-to-face social gatherings.

Reducing your Debt. Credit cards. Medical bills. Student loans. When debt seems like a hole you’ll never climb out of, a phone call, email, website or ad promising to settle your liabilities for pennies on the dollar can be awfully tempting. But proceed with care: Some debt relief offers are scams that will dig you in even deeper. Scammers will offer sham “guarantees” to get you out of debt quickly and cleanly — and, crucially, “they ask you to pay them before they do anything for you,” says the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). That’s illegal, and a big red flag that your would-be debt savior isn’t on the up-and-up. (Legitimate debt relief firms do charge for their services but can collect only when they get results.)

Speak Out: Tell us about scams and fraud you've come across

Be a fraud fighter! If you can spot a scam, you can stop a scam.

Report scams to local law enforcement or the Montana Department of Justice, Office of Consumer Protection. For help from AARP, call 1-877-908-3360 or visit the AARP Fraud Watch Network at www.aarp.org/fraudwatchnetwork.

This story is provided by AARP Montana. Visit the AARP Montana page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.

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