FTC advice on avoiding overseas fraud: think before you answer, or click

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International scam artists defraud Americans out of more than $1 billion every year, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

The FTC warns that global con artists are adept at reaching out across national borders via phone, email, snail mail, and web sites to trick unsuspecting victims into sending cash or revealing personal financial information.

To help combat this problem, the nation's consumer protection agency has compiled a list of useful tips for avoiding overseas scams, Putting a Lid on International Scams: 10 Tips for Being a Canny Consumer, which include the following:

  • Don't respond to messages that ask for your personal or financial information, whether the message comes as an email, a phone call, a text message, or an ad. Don't click on links in the message, or call unfamiliar phone numbers left on your answering machine, either. The crooks behind these messages are trying to trick you into giving up your personal information. If you get a message and are concerned about your account status, call the number on your credit or debit card - or your statement - and check it out.
  • Don't play a foreign lottery. First, it's easy to be tempted by messages that boast enticing odds, or claims you've already won. Inevitably, you'll be asked to pay "taxes," "fees," or "customs duties" to collect your prize. If you send money, you won't get it back, regardless of the promises. Second, it's illegal to play foreign lotteries.
  • In the wake of a natural disaster or another crisis, give to established charities rather than one that seems to have sprung up overnight. Pop-up charities probably don't have the infrastructure to get help to the affected areas or people, and they could be collecting the money to finance illegal activity. Check out ftc.gov/charityfraud to learn more.
  • Don't send money to someone you don't know. That includes an online merchant you've never heard of -- or an online love interest who asks for money or favors. It's best to do business with sites you know and trust. If you buy items through an online auction, consider a payment option that provides protection, such as a credit card. Don't send cash or use a wire transfer service.
  • Don't agree to deposit a check from someone you don't know and then wire money back, no matter how convincing the story. By law, banks must make funds from deposited checks available within days, but uncovering a fake check can take weeks. You are responsible for the checks you deposit. When a check turns out to be a fake, it's you who is responsible for paying back the bank.
The tip sheet is available on the FTC Web site.
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