Weekly Columns

If you take one look at your “junk” email folder, go through your weekly mail or watch enough television, you no doubt come across many questionable solicitations. These “golden opportunities” may leave you wondering if the deal is too good to be true.  In many cases, it is exactly that.    

Scam artists employ a number of tactics to unwittingly take advantage of Americans. Identity theft, credit card fraud, and scams relating to the transfer of funds are some of the biggest concerns in consumer protection today and thousands of Americans fall prey to these fraudulent schemes each year.  According to the most recent statistics from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), more than eight thousand Arkansans filed consumer complaints alleging fraudulent activity in 2010.  

In an effort to highlight how Americans can protect themselves from the various types of fraud and consumer abuse, the week of March 4, 2012 has been designated as the “National Consumer Protection Week.”

There are numerous resources available to research ways to protect ourselves both online and in person. The Better Business Bureau (BBB), the Arkansas Attorney Generals’ office and the FTC all offer a wealth of information on how to identify fraud, report it and safeguard against scams. By knowing what to look for and how to report waste, fraud, and abuse, the marketplace can be a safer environment for us all.

More often, Americans are doing business online or by mail and this also creates more opportunities to be scammed. It is important to never send money to someone without first researching their reputation. When operating online, only give out personal information to trusted businesses and individuals and be weary of unknown online vendors, charities that pop-up overnight, and especially someone from abroad requesting urgent assistance. If you receive a request for account or personal information from an unknown or suspicious website or company, make sure to verify the source of the request before replying with any credit card or sensitive information. 

Other less noticeable examples of fraud and abuse are becoming more prevalent. A perfect example of this is cramming, the act of placing unauthorized, deceptive, or misleading charges on telephone bills. Bills are confusing enough without having to worry about unauthorized charges, but it is necessary to review phone and credit card bills carefully for vague or general charges such as “service fee” or “membership.” If you do find such a charge that has no apparent explanation, contact the service provider immediately to challenge the charges and have them removed. 

As we conduct our day to day business, it is important to remember that most of the individuals and entities we regularly deal with are legitimate and honest. However, there are many scam artists and thieves out there just waiting to take advantage of the unassuming consumer. If you feel as if you have been the victim of attempted fraud or theft, immediately report the situation to the FTC, Social Security Administration, Attorney General, or your local law enforcement agency.