War Con Games

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State securities regulators warn that con artists often take their cues from the headlines.

Investors lost money to financial schemes tied to Y2K and the Sept. 11 attacks, and Alabama's securities commissioner Joseph Borg said it's likely to happen again now, in wartime.

He expects to see more oil and gas investment scams, flimsy pitches to invest in "strategic metals," and get-rich-quick offers involving tiny companies that supposedly have products or technology to combat chemical or biological terrorism.

Borg's group, the North American Securities Administrators Association, is advising consumers to use common sense and hang up on callers promoting "safe" or "sure-thing" investments. If you're promised an unusually high return with low risk -- walk away, or risk becoming a fraud victim.

Borg also said avoid offers that you plain don't understand.

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Danger Signals of Scams

  • A deal that sounds much better than any being advertised by firms you know to be legitimate, offers that are "too good to be true"

  • A promoter who is not based locally, provides no telephone number, and uses a PO box or mail drop, rather than a full street address

  • A promoter name and/or logo that closely mimics that of a respected brand or business

  • Pressure words, such as "urgent" or "final deadline," sprinkled throughout the sales literature.

  • Pressure, threats or harassment, either in writing, during a phone call, in an e-mail message, or in a personal contact

  • Immediate request or demand for a check, money order or cash to be picked up by a courier or to be sent to a mail drop or PO box

  • Vague answers or none at all to key questions you ask about the offer

  • Insistence that you finalize a deal orally or provide personal financial information (such as your social security number or credit card number), without a written contract or other documentation in writing

Scam Prevention Tips

  • Obtain the name and address of the company that person allegedly represents.

  • If the person does not represent a known business and the circumstances suggest an itinerant contractor or sales representative, ask for references and contact each one.

  • Get all details of the offer in writing and carefully review it.

  • Make sure you understand everything in the contract. Any verbal promises should be included in the contract.

  • Make sure the salesperson has provided you with the proper "notice of cancellation" form as required under the FTC's "Three Day Cooling Off Rule" for contracts signed in the home.

  • Verify that the contractor is properly licensed, bonded and insured.

  • Determine how long the company has been in business and call your Better Business Bureau to determine the firm's customer experience record.

  • If you have checked references and the company's reputation, and you decide to hire the company, make the check payable to the company and not to the salesperson or other individual's name.

  • Do not pay in cash.

  • Obtain bids from several companies.

  • Don't always go for the lowest bid -- in many cases, you will get exactly what you pay for.

  • Don't fall prey to high-pressure tactics such as "this is the only chance you have" or "by tomorrow the extra materials will be gone."

Source: www.bbb.org (Better Business Bureau Web site) contributed to this report.