March 21, 2013

Editorial: Expert advice to avoid fraud


---- — It’s easy to get ripped off, if you aren’t attentive.

Here are the top 10 ways that it happens, according to the New York Attorney General’s Office, along with tips to protect yourself:

Internet: Always make sure websites are secure before providing any financial information, such as credit-card or bank-account numbers. Secure website addresses start with “https” and have a symbol, such as a lock.

Credit: Debt collection is the most common type of credit fraud. Collectors can’t harass or abuse consumers or provide misleading information.

Automobile leasing: New Yorkers are protected by the strongest auto-leasing law in the country. It allows consumers to shop around for the best deal and set limits on early termination. The Attorney General’s Office can resolve excess-wear-and-tear disputes.

Consumer services: Make sure to use a written contract that clearly defines restrictions and obligations of both the consumer and service provider.

Rentals: Landlords are required to keep records of all notices, inspections and repairs related to a residence. Ask your landlord for documentation to ensure your building is up to code.

Mortgage: Look out for mortgage-rescue offers that will stop or delay foreclosure payments for an upfront fee or make payments on your behalf. Beware of companies that suggest a government affiliation or those that work with attorneys but don’t provide the services promised. Call the toll-free Homeowner Protection Program hotline at 1-855-HOME-456.

Home repair/construction: Before entering into a contract, shop around for estimates and check with the Better Business Bureau, banks, suppliers and neighbors for references. You have three days after signing a home-improvement contract to cancel it.

Retail: Read the rules on gift cards to know what fees and conditions apply. New rules say money on a gift card can’t expire for at least five years from the date it was purchased or from the last date any money was added. Inactivity fees can be charged only if the card hasn’t been used for at least one year.

Mail order: Whether ordering online or from a catalog, make sure the company has an operating customer-service line and lists a real street address, not a post-office box.

Telecommunications: Consumers should check landline and wireless phone bills for unauthorized third-party charges for non-call-related services, like email, website hosting, discount buying programs or voicemail. “Cramming,” as this is called, can occur when companies trick consumers into allowing charges through sweepstakes, surveys, websites and contests. Some use deceptive ads promising “free” services or products to get your name and telephone number, then charge you. If you see unauthorized charges on your bill, ask your phone company to remove them.

A little suspicion can protect you from fraud.