These are Internet offers that come to us through email. Every day we are besieged with several offers for miracle drugs, fake watches, even fortunes from war-torn countries. You know the kind: a poorly written email message from some hapless citizen of a foreign nation, struggling nobly to write in English because he/she has been left holding a fortune overseas and there is solid evidence that you are entitled to a big share of it. You are asked to kindly provide your bank account information so said foreign benefactor can deposit your fortune for you. A word of advice: Do not open these emails or follow any links, no matter how innocent or enticing they appear - just hit DELETE.
If you receive notice of a windfall or prize being held in your name and it comes from an official sounding source, check it out before responding. Organizations that have successfully bilked people out of bogus "taxes," "duties," and other advance fees include "Internal Monitoring Services," "Cash Awards Bureau," and "U.S. Entitlement Services." Find out whether such a government agency exists before trusting them.
Some of the most pathetic and dangerous scammers actually pretend to be working on your behalf. Two that come to mind are HELP which stands for Help Elderly Live Protected and SCAT: Senior Citizens Against Telemarketing. Both are fraudulent, but either one might easily fool a senior citizen into a very expensive trusting relationship.
If you are invited to join an exclusive, can't-lose lottery organization that will provide you with numbers most likely to win a foreign lottery (for a fat upfront membership fee on your part, of course), you need know only one thing: It's against the law for anyone to sell tickets for a foreign lottery in the U.S. Forget it!
This type of fraud preys on identifiable social groups that usually have strong bonds of trust and respect: religious groups, ethnic communities, professional membership organizations, or senior citizens. The con artist often convinces a respected leader of the group to embrace the fraud, which appears to be legitimate, who then recruits other members of the group to get behind the effort, i.e., invest their money too. Because the group is tight-knit and probably based on long-term relationships, it is easy for them to convince each other to put their money on the line.
To safeguard yourself from such fraudulent investment, do not take the word of even the most respected and trustworthy member of your group unless you can verify all the information independently. If your friend makes the deal sound good, remember that someone made the same deal sound good to him or her; anyone can be fooled, especially the good-hearted. And remember the old saw: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. No investment is without risk; be extremely wary of "guaranteed" returns or "can't-lose" schemes. Never invest unless the particulars are presented to you in writing, and be very suspicious of any "secret" deals you're asked to keep under your hat. Avoid the promise of "once-in-a-lifetime" deals, especially if they seem to be hush-hush.
Identity theft is a serious crime, and it's growing at an exponential rate. Identity thieves are also growing more sophisticated and can get your private information through a variety of sources, from hacking into secure databases or through forays in your trash, among other methods. You can avert problems by shredding your trash and closely guarding your social security number. No matter how careful you are, consider this: Four out of five victims have no idea how an identity thief obtained their personal information. And once they get this information, identity thieves frequently open new accounts in your name and change your address to avoid detection. They apply for new credit cards using your information, make charges, and leave the bills unpaid. People whose identities have been stolen can spend months or years - and thousands of dollars - cleaning up the mess thieves have made of their good name and credit record. Some consumer protection agencies, most notably the nonprofit Consumers Union, publisher of Consumer Reports, are lobbying Congress to pass a federal law permitting citizens in any state who suspect their credit information has been compromised to freeze their credit files quickly, before identity theft has occurred. If you think your identity has been stolen, take the following steps.
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