New Scams: Fake Haiti Charities, ATM Skimming, and Jackpots That Are Big Losers

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Unfortunately, there always seems to be a rise in scams in times of tragedy, and when people are most in need of money.

As Consuming Interests and others have taken note of, the FBI is warning people about fake charity scams, which are always out there, but which have surfaced in large numbers trying to take advantage of the outpouring of support after the devastating Haiti earthquake. Among the common sense due diligence you should take before giving to a charity:

Make contributions directly to known organizations rather than relying on others to make the donation on your behalf to ensure contributions are received and used for intended purposes.

Be skeptical of individuals representing themselves as surviving victims or officials asking for donations via e-mail or social networking sites.

SmartMoney offers a how-to for smart, sensible giving to help the victims in Haiti. The tips include:

Don’t offer your cash to the first telemarketer or to people tabling for donations on the street. Even a legitimate but newly formed group isn’t a great choice. Though the group may have good intentions, it is unlikely to have the connections and processes that established charities do to get your money where it is most needed.

And watch out for phishing scams:

If you’re donating online, be thorough. Once you’ve decided to give to, say, the Red Cross, link to the site directly from that of a charity evaluator to make sure you have the right site. Look-alike phishing sites aiming to steal your financial information are another common post-disaster scam.

Meanwhile, the LA Times’ David Lazarus reports on a lottery scam featuring some especially bumbling scammers. Joy Shefter received a phone call from a “Bank of America employee” who said her husband had won a Publishers Clearing House jackpot of $2.5 million. And then …

“It couldn’t have been more than four minutes later that I got another call,” Shefter said. “This time it was a man who said he worked for Wachovia bank, and that he also had a check from Publishers Clearing House for $2.5 million.”

She replied that she’d just received a similar call from BofA. The man quickly hung up.

You can’t always expect scammers to be this obvious. Fake lottery and sweepstake scams are common via phone and e-mail, and they’re often a lot more convincing than the scammers who couldn’t get their story straight here.

Consumer Reports says that ATM fraud, or “skimming,” is on the rise. In a skimming scam, an ATM machine that’s been tampered with can help thieves steal PINs and account data from your bank card’s magnetic strip. How can you protect yourself? Sometimes, you can’t. But:

“Crooks prefer tampering with unattended machines, so you can reduce your risk by avoiding ATMs in public locations like airports, kiosks or convenience stores and sticking with machines that are monitored by video cameras in bank lobbies,” says Avivah Litan, a senior analyst at Gartner Research specializing in fraud detection and prevention.

Also:

you at least can limit the potential damage by checking your accounts online regularly to spot any unauthorized transactions and report them as quickly as possible.

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