Scam artists and unethical companies succeed because they appeal to the needs and aspirations of their victims. This is the time of year that people make resolutions to improve their lives, and I wondered if there was any correlation between the most common New Year's resolutions and the most common scams.
I went on Google to find out what the most common resolutions were and found many listings.
One list, published by the government, identified a dozen top resolutions. Not surprisingly, half that were listed were health-related -- lose weight, get fit, quit smoking and so forth. Many of the scams we see are health-related. I wrote an earlier column describing a recent Federal Trade Commission crackdown on phony news sites that promote weight loss products. Shortly after the new health care legislation was passed in 2010, the government warned consumers about scams that were already popping up to take advantage of it. Expect to see even more.
Common resolutions also included managing debt and saving money. There's a multitude of foreclosure rescue, debt relief and advance fee loan scammers who welcome the opportunity to "help" you. Unfortunately, all they'll do is help you lose your home and whatever money you may have.
Resolutions to take a trip and volunteer to help others are fertile ground for travel scams and bogus charities.
The Better Business Bureau suggests adopting these resolutions to protect against scams and bad companies:
I won't succumb to the hard sell, "one day" only offer. I'll also read the fine print on free trial offers and even then be skeptical that anything is ever really free.
I'll get everything in writing and won't sign contracts with blank spaces or rely on oral representations from salespeople.
When I'm informed that I've won millions of dollars in a foreign lottery that I never entered, I'll let my common sense keep me from wiring money to "secure" my winnings.
I'll protect myself from identity theft by not responding to phishing emails, vishing phone calls and smishing text messages. I'll check my credit card and bank statements as soon as they arrive to be sure there's no fraudulent activity and shred them when I'm done with them.
I won't deal with someone who knocks on my door and says he has leftover asphalt or roofing material from a neighbor's job and wants to give me a great deal.
I won't apply for a job or pay money up front for a business opportunity that offers lots of income for little work and with no experience.
If I'm having trouble paying my bills, I'll talk to my lender or a nonprofit credit counselor before doing business with a debt relief company.
Finally, I'll check out any company or unsolicited offer with the BBB and always read these columns in The Commercial Appeal that give me great advice on how to avoid scams and make informed buying decisions.
Randy Hutchinson is the President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of the Mid-South, and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Reprinted with permission from The Commercial Appeal.