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Wayne Adult Community Center

Feature article from the February, 2002 Newsletter

New Scams, Old Scams

In prior issues of this newsletter, we've talked about frauds including those particularly aimed at the elderly. In this issue, we discuss one aimed at seniors and several others that can hit anyone:

The Newest Scams are connected with the September 11 atrocity and the Anthrax letters:

Phony 9/11 Charities: Before you donate to any person or organization that claims it will provide aid to the victims of the World Trade Center destruction, check it out thoroughly. Even the revered American Red Cross (which has a tarnished reputation dating back to the nineteen forties), was caught diverting money to other purposes. The Red Cross misrepresentation, however, was relatively benign since the other purposes were apparently still charitable. Many other solicitors simply keep the money for themselves.

Anti-Anthrax Measures: Ads have been appearing, primarily on the Internet, that claim to offer devices or substances that kill or neutralize Anthrax spores and/or other biological agents. None of those products has proven legitimate to date. (By the way, microwave ovens also donít kill Anthrax spores.)

In addition to the new scams, some old ones continue and others recur:

The Forgotten-Commitment Claim: This sleazy practice targets older people who have trusting natures and unreliable memories: You receive a call from someone who claims to have talked to you in the past, and states that you had told them you could not invest money with them at that time but that you promised to make an investment in several months. The time has arrived, you're told, and they specify an amount that you had supposedly committed to invest. Not only are they lying, but also the "investment" is often highly risky or worthless.

The Nigerian Money Scheme: This one has resurfaced after a hiatus of several years. It depends on a human failing, the tendency to let greed triumph over reason: You receive a letter or Email from someone claiming to be an official in the Nigerian government. He is looking for a trustworthy individual who will park a multimillion-dollar sum in return for a substantial commission amounting to several million dollars. He makes it clear that the money is being laundered and that the scheme is to be kept utterly secret.

There are variations on the scam. In one variation, you are asked to send money up front as a gesture of good faith. In another variation, you are asked to supply all information necessary to allow access to your bank account. Of course, in either case you never receive any money, and in the second case your bank account is drained. In a more dangerous version, you may be lured to Nigeria to meet with the purported official. In some cases, people who took that trip were kidnapped or murdered.

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Very Bad Values: These are not scams in the legal sense, but they fit the spirit of the definition:

Credit Card Protection Plans: These products are also called "credit card insurance". They are often sold based on scary sales talks about the possibility of large purchases being made by someone who steals or counterfeits your card. However, your total liability for unauthorized use of your card is usually limited, BY LAW, to $50. Furthermore, if you report the loss, theft or unauthorized use promptly, you cannot be charged for any such purchases.

Extended Warranties: Most extended warranties are a waste of money because either (a) they cover product failures that are extremely unlikely or (b) the cost of the extended warranty is greater than what you would pay to repair the product without the warranty.

W. A. Shapiro


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3/24/2002 940