smart spending

Don't get hooked by these 9 scams

You're careful with personal information, never open suspicious e-mail attachments and shred those credit card statements. You're confident in your ability to spot a scam, but criminals know it's only a matter of finding the right bait to make you their catch of the day. Cons, like the ones outlined below, are designed to hook you and your wallet.

Are you prey for a scam?
Con men are forever coming up with new ways to separate you from your money. Some employ the latest technology; other methods are decidedly low-tech. But all are designed to catch you off guard. Don't take the bait.
Don't get conned by these scams
  1. Born to Shop
  2. The tax "expert"
  3. "Helpful web sites
  4. Stuck with a time share
  5. A model career
  6. Insider information
  7. Sharing the wealth
  8. Home inspectors home calling
  9. Clean checks

1. Born to shop

The ads for mystery shoppers tout enticing perquisites: Eat free gourmet meals, buy high-end clothes and make up to $60 an hour. You can launch yourself in this fabulous -- and fictitious -- career for a mere $25 to $60.

Mark Michelson of Michelson & Associates Inc., an Atlanta-based company, warns that the hype is phony. "Shops don't pay by the hour," Michelson says.

Mystery shoppers are compensated by the assignment, usually around $15 -- and that includes the time it takes to complete lengthy reports. But, hey, that's not shabby if you consider the pricey merchandise you get to keep, right? Michelson punches a hole in that theory, too. "The merchandise usually has to be returned unless it's a very small item," he says.

His advice: If you want to be a mystery shopper, either deal with a marketing company affiliated with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, which is a professional alliance, or contact the company you want to work for directly. You can be put on a list mystery shoppers that employers use for free. You should never pay a third party for that information.

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2. The tax 'expert'

Think your tax guy knows what he's doing? Better be sure. The Internal Revenue Service warns that tax preparers who intentionally cut corners, or are downright incompetent, can land clients in hot water, as well as cost them a bundle. How do you separate qualified preparers from scammers? The IRS has lots of information on its Web site, and Bankrate's article, " Checking out your tax preparer," can help, too.

And, while you're at it, watch out for computer-based scams like bogus IRS e-mails asking for personal information. Don't click on those links -- the IRS doesn't operate this way. Instead, agents say you should contact the IRS by telephone when you receive a message.

The latest twist is an IRS mirror site, or a phony Web site that looks exactly like the agency's home page, but is actually operated by identity thieves. C.J. Fearnley, chief technology officer of LinuxForce and computer security expert, says to be skeptical of everything on the Web.

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