Consumer Resources


Protect Your Identity

  • Guard your financial information closely. Never give out your bank card, credit card, social security number or financial information unless you initiated the transaction and you trust the merchant.
  • Beware of imposters. Cons may look and sound like a company or bank you do business with, but trusted merchants will never call you to obtain personal information. Only call a known company phone number and when online, never enter a website from an email-type the known URL into your browser.
  • Protect your snail mail. Pick it up promptly, have it picked up when you're away, and if possible, get a secure, locked mailbox.
  • Shred all offers you receive by mail. Once your trash can is on the street for pickup, it is public property, so anyone can help themselves to what's inside.
  • Lock your "valuables". Keep a fire safe for important documents such as wills, titles, financial information, passports and social security cards. Use passwords to protect your computer, PDA, phone or any device that has identity information.
  • Memorize your passwords and PINs. Never keep them with cards, your wallet, your car or other identifying information.
  • Check your credit report regularly. It's like going to the don't enjoy it, but doing it keeps you healthy and prevents problems later.
  • Want to know how to spot a fake or "phishing" website? Click Here

Telemarketing Fraud: Watch out for...

  • Pressure to act immediately ("offer valid for 24 hours only")
  • Refusal to send you written information
  • Use of scare tactics ("if you don' could lose your home")
  • Demands for payment by wire or courier
  • Demands for payment of taxes or customs fees to claim a prize
  • Requests for your financial account numbers even though you're not paying for something with them
  • Claims that you can make lots of money working from home
  • For information on how to get off mailing, emailing and telemarketing lists, click here.

Advance Fee Loans, Credit Service & Credit Card Offers

  • NEVER deposit a check you didn't expect to get, since you'll be responsible for it if it bounces
  • It's against the law for telemarketers to charge any fees in advance if they claim that it's likely that they can help you get a loan.
  • If you have poor credit or haven't established a good credit record yet, it's unlikely that anyone will lend you money, except at very high fees.
  • If you don't qualify for a loan yourself, try finding a co-signer.
  • It isn't necessary to pay another company to help you get a credit card, nor will it improve your chances of obtaining one.
  • It's illegal to charge for a credit card before you receive it, and if they say you qualified, but they need your social security number, it's a scam.
  • Federal law requires credit repair services to give you a explanation of your legal rights, a detailed written contract, and three days to cancel (this applies to for-profit services, not to nonprofit organizations, banks and credit unions, or the creditors themselves).
  • "Free" credit reports are not really free, so it's best to contact the credit bureaus directly-Experian, TransUnion and Equifax-to request your credit history. By law you can obtain a free credit report once a year at Immediately challenge anything you know to be false.

Government Grants

  • The government doesn't telephone people or send unsolicited letters or emails to offer grants. If someone offers you one, they're trying to steal your money and/or your identity.
  • Legitimate government grants never require fees of any kind. They require an application process initiated only by you, and they're never guaranteed.
  • Government grants are for very specific purposes, like studying whales in Alaska, not just because you're a good citizen.
  • Most government grants are awarded to states, cities, schools, and nonprofit organizations to help provide services or fund research projects.

Work-at-Home Scams

If it were so easy to make a lot of money working from home for only a few hours a week, wouldn't we all be doing it?

  • Envelope stuffing, home product assembly and mystery shopping promoters that advertise they'll get you opportunities for a small fee (in advance) are a SCAM. They'll just tell you to place an ad like the one you responded to and get people to send you money to tell them to do the same thing. For more information on these scams, click here.
  • The company may not be offering to employ you directly, only to sell you training and materials and to find customers for your work.
  • Working from home is just like any other business-it requires hard work and time commitment. There's no magic formula to get rich quick.
  • Get all the details before you buy one thing. Look at their website and materials first!
  • If available, read the resumes of the company's founders and executive staff. If all or nearly all come from network marketing, it's probably a bogus operation.
  • Be aware that the job may require a license or certificate or have other legal requirements.
  • Don't buy anything you can't return within a reasonable time frame.
  • Watch out for Pyramid or Ponzi schemes: Plans that promise profits mainly for recruiting new members. Legitimate multilevel marketing plans aren't based on sales to distributors. Profits should come from sales that you and any distributors under you make to the end-users.
  • Legitimate job search services are free, so do not pay for "CAREER SERVICES." Read our report about career services here.
  • Postal jobs you have to pay for aren't real. Read about them here.

Sweepstakes, Prizes & Lotteries

  • It's illegal for a company to require you to buy something or pay a fee in order to win or claim a prize.
  • It's illegal for a company to even suggest that your chances will be better if you make a purchase.
  • Don't believe that you have to give the company money for taxes on your prize, since they are deducted from winnings or paid directly to the government.
  • It's illegal to use the mail or telephone to play lotteries across borders (national and state).
  • No legitimate sweepstakes company will ask for your bank account number, credit card number or social security number. Do not provide it. Ever.
  • Be wary of offers to send you an "advance" on your "winnings." It's an elaborate check-kiting scam.
  • Most prize notifications are just marketing ploys to get your personal information or rip you off. Nothing's really free-you're probably paying for it with your name going on a mailing list the company rents out.
  • Free vacations aren't really free. You may be required to pay service charges or purchase membership in a travel club or attend a 2-hour sales pitch. Read what the FTC says about free vacations here.
  • Joining a lottery "club" won't improve your chances of winning foreign lotteries.
  • When you respond to a lottery solicitation, you identify yourself as a potential victim, resulting in many more offers for lotteries and other fraudulent money making opportunities.

African Money Offers

Someone has contacted you and offered you millions of dollars, and all you need to do is help transfer money or other riches to your account for safekeeping.

  • The purpose of the scam is to get money OUT of your account, not into it!
  • Don't believe any pictures they send, they're fake.
  • They may offer to send you an advance "commission", but they'll skip out on you, leaving you with a bounced check you have to cover.
  • Never give anyone you don't know your bank account, credit card or financial information.
  • Do not travel anywhere to meet an "agent".

Medicare Rx Coverage Scams

  • If someone says you must join or you'll lose your other Medicare benefits, it's a scam. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is voluntary. It supplements your other Medicare benefits.
  • If someone claims to be calling from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and asks for your bank account, credit card, or life insurance policy numbers, it's a scam. SSA will never ask for that information.
  • It's illegal for companies or organizations marketing Medicare drug plans to come to your door uninvited or to send you unsolicited emails. Companies and organizations can call to promote their drug plans, but it's illegal for them to sign people up during those calls. They must also obey telemarketing laws: it's illegal to...
    • Call before 8 am or after 9 pm
    • Call people whose telephone numbers are on a state or the federal "do not call" registry (with some exceptions)
    • Call people who have asked not to be called again
  • It's illegal to require anyone to join a drug plan in order to get a prize or gift.
  • Only plans approved by Medicare can be marketed as Medicare prescription drug plans. Approved plans will have a seal on their materials with "Medicare Rx" in large letters and "Prescription Drug Coverage" in smaller letters under that.

Telephone Cramming

Cramming is when a company charges you through your telephone bill for extra services that you never agreed to buy.

  • Contest entry forms, product coupons, checks and other promotional materials could include an agreement to buy a service that will be charged to your phone number. Read them carefully.
  • Someone posing as a representative from your phone company may try to trick you by asking about your satisfaction with your service or telling you about a service change. Watch for any changes to your bill.
  • Watch for a "negative option" notice that requires you contact the company to cancel it or you will be charged for a service (this is especially common on websites that have an option pre-checked, and if you don't uncheck it, you could accidentally be signing up for something you don't want.)
  • Don't return calls on your pager that you don't recognize. A crammer may use Automatic Number Identification to see the number you're dialing from and process an unauthorized request for service.
  • Read your cell phone contract carefully before signing and regularly check your bill for numbers or services you don't recognize.

Miscellaneous But Important!

  • Never trust any moving company to package and transport anything you cannot replace with insurance. Trucks get stolen, have accidents and items aboard mysteriously disappear. Always get insurance, such as homeowner's insurance, before shipping anything valuable, and take important documents, computers and family heirlooms with you.
  • Get the name of a reputable home builder and hire a qualified attorney for all home financial transactions. Click here to read our home buying advice.
  • Drugs and diet pills sold on the Internet are usually inappropriate doses, and they're not regulated by the government or your doctor, so you're taking a dangerous risk by using them. Joining a "free trial" ensures you'll keep receiving useless pills and you'll be unable to cancel shipments. You can spot them with their exaggerated claims such as "instant cures for arthritis", "lose weight without effort", or "grow hair overnight."
  • Collection agencies who call will already have all the information they need to mail a letter, so if they're asking for your financial information, don't give it. They're probably junk debt buyers trying to collect on uncollectible accounts by making you believe you forgot that you owed money. Know your rights by reading the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act and the Fair Credit Reporting Act.
  • Like unexpected checks, don't open packages if you didn't order anything. Send it back with "refused delivery" on it.
  • Chain letters are illegal, whether for money, sandals, recipes or any other item. It's a pyramid scheme.
  • Watch out for brown mailing envelopes that look like they're from the Government. They're designed to fool you, so read them carefully.
  • Always read the small print on contracts. This is where the bad guys hide the good stuff that will get you later. Don't believe them if they say they can't write it down.
  • Never, ever invest money except with a licensed investment advisor or securities dealer whom you have personally investigated prior to beginning a professional relationship. Obtain a report on disciplinary histories of licensed securities professionals from
  • Buying a car is tricky business. Read our car buying tips before you start negotiating.
  • Beware the JURY DUTY SCAM-someone calls to tell you they're a jury coordinator and asks for your birth date and SSN so they can verify the information and cancel the arrest warrant. You're scared and confused and they bully you into believing them. Don't fall for it. Read more here.