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Debbie Sharp Loeb, teacher by training but full-time mom to a disabled son, craftsperson, bead artist, great cook, creative homemaker & terrific spotter of cool new products for everything under the sun, presents Hodgepodge: recipes, household hints, stories about children, friends & relatives, cool stuff, music, & much more.

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Monday, October 25, 2010

The Sneakiest New Shopping Scams

Smishing - Instead of getting an email from a supposedly trustworthy source claiming a problem with your account and asking for your user name and password, you get a text message. (The word is a combination of "SMS," for short message service.) It works because people don't usually give their cell phone out and they figure if someone has my cellphone number it must be someone I know. If you get a text alert about an account don't respond before you can verify that it's legitimate.

Teeny, tiny charges -Theives get hold of your credit or debit card number and make small charges from 20 cents to $10. People didn't notice or bother to check into the charges because they were small. Meanwhile the criminals racked up millions of dollars in bogus charges.
To prevent it look over you bill each month carefully and question anything you don't recognize. Notify your card company as soon as possible, no later than 60 days. Debit card charges must be reported within 2 days or you could be liable for the first $500 in fraudulent charges. If you wait more than 60 days after your statement is mailed, you could lose all the money in your account.

Skimmers - These are the devices that thieves attach to ATMs or gas pumps to steal your debit account number and password that have been around for years.
To prevent it use credit cards and avoid noon-bank ATMs. Always carefully check the machine carefully and don't use it if there is a plastic strip or film sticking out.If your card gets stuck don't leave the machine. Use your cell phone and call the 24 hour service number of your bank to report the problem.

Membership programs - When you're buying from a reputable website and just before you click the "confirm" button for your purchase, you see a pop-up window or banner ad with an offer such as "$10 Cash Back on Your Next Purchase!", don't click on it. By accepting that "deal" you're agreeing to enroll in a Web discount program that's run by a completely separate company. Be wary of any pop-up windows or banner ads that promise you an additional discount before you complete the transaction.

Stripped gift cards - A thief can steal the card number and security code. Then all they do is call the 800 number shown on the card every few days to check the balance. Once a shopper has purchased the card and loaded it with a dollar amount, the thief can spend it before the purchaser does.
Only buy cards that are behind a customer service desk. Carefully inspect the magnetic or peel-off strip on the back to make sure it hasn't been tampered with. If you buy a perloaded card have the cashier check it to make sure the full value is on it. Also be sure to keep the receipt in case something goes wrong.

Counterfeit electronics - Look for a label stating that the product has been certified by CSA International or Underwriters Laboratory.
(Go to CSA -International. org and click on "Certification Marks" to see what genuine labels look like. At, go to the search box and type in "How to spot fakes.")

Other ways to protect yourself:

Get the right security software.Two great, downloadable programs that protect against viruses, spyware, and other online threats at no charge. Try Avira, at, or Microsoft Security Essentials, at

There are several useful resources for ensuring your online safety. The Federal Trade Commission's site has lots of fact sheets that tell you what to do you if you've been scammed. Under the Consumer Protection tab, click on "Consumer Information" and then "Shopping for Products & Services." Don't miss the helpful primers on what to do if you're billed for merchandise you never receive and "How to right a wrong." - This site is sponsored by the American Bar Association and is packed with advice on safe payment methods, protecting your privacy when you shop, and other need-to-know topics. - This site has tips on Internet shopping and is sponsored by government agencies. Quizzes test your knowledge of spyware, online auctions, ID theft, and more. - The Anti-Phishing Working Group, an industry-sponsored association, has a tip sheet on how to avoid being scammed. Click on "Consumer Advice," then "How to Avoid Phishing Scams."

You can always check sellers before you do business with them by going to the Better Business Bureau, at Grades A to F are based on how long the seller has been in business and how good a job it does resolving complaints. Other sites that are worth a look include,, and, for its user reviews. Also do a Google search of the site or retailer and the word "complaints."

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