"Try to get independent corroboration of the site: Use two search engines or multiple known directories," Fearnley says. He says it's less likely for a scammer to be listed in multiple locations. For example, a site that shows up on Google but not Yahoo! should send up red flags. A real IRS site would appear on both.
3. 'Helpful' Web sitesEnterprising crooks often construct phony, but official-looking, Web sites, particularly in the investment arena. The North American Securities Administration Association offers an example of a bogus regulatory agency that purports to handle fraud complaints. Although such a site looks real, its true purpose is much more sinister -- to harvest personal information from gullible consumers. Fearnley says this is another time when doing a comprehensive Web search is imperative.
4. Stuck with a time shareIf you a bought a time share and lived to regret it, be forewarned -- the outlook for resale isn't pretty. That market's slower than a slug on ice, and when the units do sell, it's usually for a fraction of what the original owner paid.
There's another whopping negative in the time share resale market, too. Hucksters find desperate owners are easy targets. In fact, many who offer to resell time shares not only don't sell them, they take owners for a ride by charging nonrefundable upfront fees.
Debra G. Speyer, an attorney with a national practice that specializes in elder law and securities fraud, says, "You shouldn't be paying upfront money to anybody to sell anything."
Speyer cautions potential resellers not to sign away their rights until sale proceeds have cleared.
5. A model careerWhile shopping, you're approached by someone who says you -- or your child -- have the look sought by top modeling agencies. While it's not outside the realm of possibility to be discovered a la Lana Turner, face it -- you'd have better odds making the Olympic ice-skating team.
Modeling scams prey on the hopes of innocent victims and their parents. Jon Sorensen, spokesman for New York State's Consumer Protection Board, says these con artists rely on their victims' desire for fame and fortune.
"Everyone gets weak in the knees. They think it's the best thing that ever happened to them."
The perpetrators make their money by selling expensive photo packages. Another common ploy: holding auditions for talent scouts from multiple agencies. Only thing is, there's rarely anyone from big-named agencies at these affairs. And naturally, it costs to participate.
Sorensen says the tactics are strictly high-pressure. The defense is simple: "Take a breath and see what's being promised," Sorensen says, especially when they try to sell you picture packages. "The portfolio in the real modeling world is a collection of photos from various jobs. What they're offering is multiple studio shots."
Beginners only need a head shot -- something Sorensen says the average person can take at home. For more information, check out the Federal Trade Commission's warning on modeling scams.