Word to the Wise: Make a New Year’s resolution to avoid these scams

While making your New Year’s resolutions list, did you include goals on budgeting and spending wisely? The Better Business Bureau encourages consumers to take charge of their finances, shop and buy wisely, and stay away from marketplace scams. Among the tips to consider in 2015:

Do not believe it just because you saw it on the Internet. Claims of fast money and guaranteed returns on your computer screen are no more reliable than classic chain letters and other get rich quick schemes.

Guard your personal information. Identity theft is one of the fastest growing crimes in the country. Do not give your credit card number (or the expiration date), bank account number, social security number or driver’s license number over the phone or the Internet to anyone you do not know. Even if the caller promises a prize, an award, a guaranteed credit card, or a loan do not give such personal financial information until you see written information about the offer, know you want it and have checked the offer out.

Speaking of prizes, it is not a prize if you have to pay to get it. With the exception of games of skill where you pay to enter, a prize is something you win by chance with no strings attached. If you must pay for something or buy anything, then it’s a purchase, not a prize. Don’t fall for the fake checks they are willing to send to help out, it will end up being counterfeit. And never wire-transfer money to anyone you do not know personally.

If someone calls claiming to be from a tech support company offering to fix or clean-up your computer viruses, don’t believe it. The caller may tell you that your computer is sending error messages, and they’ve detected a virus on it. He says that only a tech support employee can remove the virus, but first you must grant him access to your machine. They could download spyware onto your computer which could allow them to monitor your keystrokes. Many people report if they allowed the caller remote access to their computers, whether they had paid for the virus to be removed or not, they had difficulties with their computers afterwards. Some said their computer would not turn on or certain programs/files were inaccessible.

Do not purchase prepaid debit cards or wire-transfer money for someone you do not know or who contacts you with an emergency need. Many consumers using popular services offered by Western Union, MoneyGram and Green Dot MoneyPak find out, much too late, they have been taken by scammers and their chances of retrieving their money is remote at best.

Do not fall for high-pressure sales tactics. An offer that is good “today only” is a sign to be even more careful. By considering your needs and comparing products, prices, terms and guarantees, you can tell a true bargain from a too-good-to-be-true scam.

By making resolutions to protect yourself, you can become a more informed consumer thus saving time, money and embarrassment by not falling for some of these common scams. The most important advice I can give to consumers is: ask questions and then check it out. The Better Business Bureau stands ready to answer questions and offer advice when it comes to protecting yourself from becoming a victim.

Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus.