Just when you think you've figured out the bad guys, they come up with another con. But as a group, they made enough dumb maneuvers in 2009 to give us a good start on protecting ourselves in 2010.
Here are 10 resolutions to help keep your dollars from flowing the wrong way out of your wallet and otherwise protecting you from undue harm.
10. Know that "loan modifications" are for the most part a scam. Some are run by the same people that got us into the real estate financing catastrophe in the first place. Refinance with a reputable bank (or your existing bank) by all means, while interest rates are low. But you don't need to pay any of these scam artists to do what you can do yourself with a few phone calls. And don't pay any attention to the self-regulatory mechanisms this industry has dreamed up. Ignore phony credentials from The National Loss Mitigation Association, or Tariq "Rick" Rahim's Online Business Bureau.
9. Don't be tempted by online ads for movies and TV series that haven't been officially released. You'll get snared by pirating operations such as this one that deliver inferior goods and don't return phone calls or e-mails if you get stuck with DVDs that don't play. This year, these sites made a bundle prior to the official release of the TV series "Thirtysomething," which was held up for years by legal disputes. What you'll get for your money is poor quality video recorded off pay-TV channels in Southeast Asia or China. If you're trying to buy DVDs of a rare TV series or movie, find it on the Internet Movie Database and see if there's any helpful discussion.
8. Delete unsolicited "work from home" offers in e-mail and other formats. Absolutely disregard any that ask for an upfront payment for training materials, software, or supplies. This is a multi-billion-dollar-a-year scam (yes, billion with a B). The best way to work from home is to earn the privilege -- in other words, find a legitimate job through traditional means that allows telecommuting. Many companies that offer this benefit advertise it.
7. Don't buy memory sticks on eBay. The auction market is flooded with fakes that can even fool experts from their outward appearance. You don't want to go shoving these in your camera and have them fail on you halfway through -- adios, pictures and movies. Remember, auction fraud is the number one consumer complaint about the Internet in the U.S. Highest risks for auction rip-offs are: Sports and other memorabilia, stamps, laptops, designer sunglasses and purses and watches.
6. Learn how to use WHOIS before it's gone. As dysfunctional as it is, you can still learn a lot about a Web site if you can figure out who owns its domain.
5. After buying something (see this site for an example), don't click on any dancing coupon offers, $10 rebate bait or any other "post-transaction" marketing. Just don't. Three companies within a half hour of each other in southwest Connecticut made so many bazillions off unsuspecting consumers with this game they attracted a U.S. Senate investigation.
4. Download these three things: the latest version of Firefox, the free anti-virus program Avast!, and the famed Spybot Search & Destroy. Run Avast! and Spybot once a month. Enable your software's firewall, and if you can sign up for automatic security updates, do it.
3. Constipated? Bloated? Drink prune juice, eat granola in the morning and cut down on red meat. I ain't a doctor, but I know those three things are much better for your colon than Colo Flush, BromaCleanse or any of the other alimentary ameliorates hawked by unscrupulous "neutraceutical" marketers. They've become especially annoying now they're taking the consumer watchdog angle, with one site pretending to disparage another's products while linking to their own.
2. Fat? Can't lose the pounds? Then eat smaller portions, load up on vegetables and exercise. You don't need acai berry in any of its forms (though the juice you can buy in supermarkets actually tastes pretty good). You might enjoy looking at this bulletin board where the people who sell this stuff trade tips and laugh at the gullibility of the American consumer. Says one poster: "Acai is still going *really* well for us. I kid you not, we are currently pushing Acai as a supplement, as a colon cleanse, and as a wrinkle cream.... Errm... I should add that it's 3 different products, lol."
1. Need to quit smoking? Want longer eyelashes? The pharmaceutical industry has something to sell you. With scrutiny of drug ads increasing, expect Big Pharma to try the soft-sell approach. But always know who's paying the freight. For instance, the Web site MyTimetoQuit.com and the TV commercials that go with it may sound altruistic, but they are selling you Pfizer's drug Chantix. The TV ads don't mention the drug by name, and the Web site doesn't either -- it actually sends you to another site, where it takes a little digging to find this information: "Some people have had changes in behavior, hostility, agitation, depressed mood, suicidal thoughts or actions while using CHANTIX...[if] you develop suicidal thoughts or actions, anxiety, panic, aggression, anger, mania, abnormal sensations, hallucinations, paranoia or confusion, stop taking CHANTIX..."
So: Lift the curtains, follow the money, and have a happier, healthier 2010.
Your 10 resolutions for a scam-free (well, almost) New Year