Personal Finance 
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Scam Week 2010

Scam Week 2010You won the lottery! Just kidding… but you are very close. Wire $10,000 to my account in Estonia and the King of Prussia will authorize me to immediately transfer into your account a payment of 10.000.000.000! I need the wire transfer in order to get your bank information. So please send it soonest.

If you believed any of that (I hope you didn’t) then you definitely need to check out our series this week – Scam Week.

Scam Week will focus on some of the most popular financial scams on the Internet from the classics, Nigerian 419 and phishing scams, to the new, I barely know you on Facebook but I got mugged in England and need money; with tips on how to avoid falling for a scam or becoming the vehicle for scammers to rip off your friends.

Hopefully I’ll introduce a scam, or at least the history of a scam, that you haven’t seen before and can protect yourself against it!

(Photo: jepoirrier)


 Cars 
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Five Worst Car Maintenance Scams

My Favorite MechanicFinding a good mechanic or shop that you can trust is very difficult, so when you find one, it pays to stick with them. It’s why I always take my car to the same place every time I have an issue. There have been a couple times when I, or my lovely wife, have brought it in for a minor issue and they sent us on our way without a bill. One time one of us rolled over some tar that stuck to the tire, leading to a bit of a shake and some thumping. We brought it in, they scraped it off, and sent us along free of charge (they didn’t even charge for labor). That’s good service and, when you think about it, it’s how business should be done.

So that’s what makes some of these car maintenance scams so egregious. It’s businesses thinking of the short term, rather than the long term, and wanting to make a quick buck off a sucker. Many of these are scams because they don’t outright rip you off, they just overcharge you for a service you don’t need.

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 Investing 
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Is Goldline A Scam?

Gold Bars & CoinsGold has always been seen as a nice safe store of value. When the world is in crisis, people turn to gold for stability, which is why the price of gold is around $1,200 an ounce these days. I’m not an investor but one important lesson, repeated by savvier investors, is that gold itself may be an investment but it’s true value is as an independent store of value. Should your home currency ever be deemed worthless (in the case of hyperinflation), you could take your gold to another country and convert it into their local currency. If your government were to collapse, you could go elsewhere and still have purchasing power.

You can see how gold has value when the world is in crisis right? That’s given rise to a lot of companies that are looking to make money from the increased popularity in gold. I’m sure you’ve seen ads from Cash4Gold, looking to pay you top dollar for your unwanted jewelry, but there are also companies on the other side. Companies who have gold and are looking to sell it. One of those companies, made popular by their spokesman Glenn Beck, is Goldline.

People want to know – is Goldline a scam? Representative Anthony Weiner of New York seems to think so.
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 Personal Finance 
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How to Avoid Tipping Scams & Ripoffs

Restaurant ReceiptWhen I shared how I was taken by a Canadian fake DVD scammer, I asked you all what your worst scam was and the most common response was servers fraudulently putting more tip on the receipt. It’s such an easy scam because what’s an extra dollar or two on your receipt? It’s hard to discover in your credit card bill because the difference is so small. A 3 becomes an 8, a 7 becomes a 9, and all you’re probably looking for when you review your statement is whether you went to the place in question.

So here are a few simple ways to avoid getting ripped off.

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 Your Take 
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Your Take: Have You Ever Been Scammed?

Scam TrucksOf course you have, we all have. Sometimes they’re small scams, like someone adding a little onto your bar tab, and sometimes they’re big scams, like someone skimming your credit card and going on a spending spree.

When I was in college, I would occasionally buy and sell stuff on eBay. I remember the days of scouring Fatwallet Hot Deals forums for deals I could sell on eBay. I was doing it so often that I wrote a program that would quickly scrape eBay auction results and give me average sales price, standard deviation, and other statistics so I knew whether something was worth the effort. My comfort with eBay as a seller made me comfortable as a buyer.

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 Banking 
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How to Verify a Personal Check

Checks Cashed!Have you ever been given a check that just doesn’t sit right with you? Isn’t it unfair that your bank will charge you an exhorbitant fee when you deposit someone else’s bad check? However, sometimes you still need to take the risk by accepting as many forms of payment as possible, especially if you’re a business, and there are things you can do to protect yourself. These aren’t perfect solutions, in fact they are far from perfect, but by taking these steps you can reduce your risk significantly.

First things first, you need to trust the person giving you the check. If you don’t, ask for an alternate form of payment. A money order from the USPS costs only $1.10 to $1.50 (max of $1,000) and can be cashed at a bank or a Post Office. For larger payment amounts, have the buyer get a cashier’s or bank check. There’s a small fee but it should be nominal compared to the amount of the payment and just part of doing business.

If, however, you have no choice but to accept a personal check, there are a few things you can do to verify that the check is a good one. This comes in two steps – verifying the check itself is good and then verifying the associated account has the necessary funds.

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 Shopping 
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Hottest New Money Maker: The Plunder Funnel

What happens when you take a pyramid and turn it upside down? That’s right… you have a funnel. A plunder funnel. If you’ve been wondering how to turn and and every human relationship you have into cold hard cash, then you need to request this special package teaching you how to make your very own plunder funnel.

It’s pretty amazing, I hope to earn my $700,329 a month (I hear the limit is infinity but I don’t want to seem greedy) and I definitely know two people.

Pssst… it’s a parody.

Brought to you by the fine folks at the Consumerist.


 The Home 
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What are Mortgage Accelerator Programs?

Mortgage DeedA mortgage accelerator program is a fancy name for a program that promises to help you pay off your loan faster than you would making regular monthly payments. With the recession and with falling housing prices, advertisements for these types of programs are popping up everywhere. The real question, though, is whether they work and I have to go back to a tried and true adage – “If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.”

These programs promise to help you pay off your loans in half the time. Half! They remind me of those ads where someone with $150,000 in IRS tax debt gets it renegotiated down to $50 (you know those ads right?) or how $10,000 in credit card debt was settled for $150 and a high five. They smell like scams but if we just left it at that, we wouldn’t really know the real answer right? (this is how debt settlement works, it’s not necessarily a scam but it’s very very dangerous)

So let’s find out what mortgage accelerator programs are and whether they’re scams.
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