By Pfc. Michael P. SynerJanuary 8, 2010
People have been swindling others since the first feelings of greed stirred in man, and as the human race develops new technologies, methods of cheating become more varied.
Thanks to the help of Deanna R. Nelson, assistant attorney general in charge of the Attorney General's Watertown Regional Office, Soldiers stationed here had an opportunity Dec. 16 to learn about the most recent trends in scamming and how to protect themselves.
"Historically, Soldiers have always been good targets for scams," Nelson said. "They're usually young, travel frequently and have a steady paycheck."
She taught the gathered troops about some of the scams being seen today as a part of a Financial Readiness class held at the USO here.
Nelson discussed lending / financing, real estate, sweepstakes / lotteries, and credit card consolidation scams. She also provided pointers for online shopping and protecting one's identity.
"A lot of Soldiers find themselves getting into problems with things like payday loans," Nelson said. "They're usually quickly completed, but the interest rates are usually really high."
She urged caution when considering applying for a payday loan. These loans often have interest rates of 300 percent and higher for a short-term payoff.
Kent Thompson, Fort Drum Financial Readiness program manager, also warned Soldiers about the loans.
"They're dangerous," he said. "The only thing we can really do is educate people."
Additionally, increased realty scams have been detected this year, Nelson said.
"Scammers will post advertisements about a piece of property for rent," she said. "These are often real places taken from real estate web sites, then copied verbatim onto another site at a reduced price, but with different contact information that leads to communication with scammers. Often, the scammer will use a story about how they had to leave the country on short notice and (give instructions) to wire two months of rent to another country."
The best way to protect yourself from this kind of scam is to thoroughly read any paperwork signed, deal only in person, and never wire money to anyone you don't trust, she said.
Nelson also spoke about telemarketing scams. Individuals often try to collect information over the phone, often by offering a fake or low-value product for sale, or by pretending they're performing surveys.
"Do not give out important information over the phone," she said. "If someone calls you, ask them to mail you information about the company. Check with the Better Business Bureau, take your time making any decision, and, if you do decide to buy their service, pay with a credit card. Credit card charges can be contested within 30 days of a purchase."
Another common scamming technique is contacting a person with information about winning a sweepstakes or lottery.
"National sweepstakes scams will often claim that a fee needs to be paid to collect the winnings," she said. "There are no legitimate organizations that do this. Do not pay any administration fees. Also, buying more products does not increase your chances of winning. International lotteries won by U.S. citizens are almost always scams."
"New York has the sixth-highest identification theft rate in the U.S.," Nelson warned. "The best way to prevent theft is to minimize the risk."
"Don't give out personal details unless you're sure it's safe," she continued. "If you're buying something online, make sure it's a secured site. Usually, these sites read https://, instead of http://."
Secure sites are especially important when it comes to online shopping.
"Check around before you order something," she said. "See if the prices they offer are comparable to other stores. You may find that some stores sell their stock at greatly inflated prices."
One common way to lure unwary shoppers is to use monthly payment pricing rather than an upfront cost.
"Monthly payment pricing scams come at a much higher cost, often going above 200 percent interest. They don't offer a good return policy and often employ aggressive penalties and debt collection policies if payments are missed," Nelson said.
For more information about your rights as a consumer, visit the New York Office of the Attorney General's web site at www.oag.state.ny.us.