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Source: 50Plus.com

Posted on January 10, 2011

They tug on heart strings, they play on fears and despite all the warnings, they still manage to find new victims. Steering clear of fraudsters after our cash and personal information seems to be an increasingly difficult task, but it is possible when we have a heads-up on their tactics.

Here are some of the latest scams police and experts are warning about:

Skimming at the pump and ATMs

How it works: You use your debit card to withdraw cash at an ATM or pay at the pump when you fill up your tank. However, before you got there, criminals installed a small device in the machine to record your card's information and your PIN number. The crooks can then use the data to clone your card and withdraw cash from your account.

This scam isn't new, but it's been gaining popularity in the U.S. during the busy summer travel season, according to Consumer Reports . Thanks to their tiny size and Bluetooth technology, these nearly invisible skimming devices easily go undetected at the pumps and ATMs. It's easy for crooks to access terminals after hours when no one is looking.

How to fight it: Look closely before you perform a transaction, even at your own bank. If you see anything suspicious, alert the bank or gas station owner. Don't forget to shield the pad when typing in your PIN, and change those PINs every month or two to keep crooks guessing. If you're wary at the pump, pay inside instead.

Fake order confirmations

How they work: You receive an email from a well-known company confirming an order you supposedly placed for an expensive product. You may think someone has gotten a hold of your account or credit card information, and your first reaction is to follow the links to check your order history or to contact customer service to find out what's going on.

However, instead of solving the problem, you end up with a bigger one: a virus or other malware on your computer. These scams may also direct you to a spam website or phishing site.

So far, some pretty big names like Amazon.com and Zappo's have been spoofed in these schemes, forcing companies and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to issue warnings. The emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated and often use legitimate email addresses, links and graphics.

How to fight them: Like other potentially damaging spam emails, the best thing to do is delete them. Don't reply, don't click on any of the links and never give out any personal or financial information. If you're concerned, check your bank and credit card statements before taking action.

If you do open the message or click on something you shouldn't have, experts advise to run your anti-virus scan just to be on the safe side.

Facebook "dislike" button (and other viral scams)

How it works: Frequent Facebook members know the "like" button doesn't always cut it. Though users would often like to voice their disapproval, experts are warning there's no such thing as an "official dislike button." That doesn't mean you won't see prompts to download this rogue application, or posts claiming your contacts are using it. The application will access your profile and spread the scam to your friends, family and coworkers. You might even be asked to fill out a survey first - for which the crooks earn some cash.

According to experts, the dislike button is the latest in a series of viral scams that usually feature fraudulent links to shocking or funny content.

How to fight it: Experts advise caution when using any social media site. Ignore suspicious sounding ads, links and invites, even if they come from friends and followers. Beware of any generic updates in your news feed that seem out of character (like "OMG I just saw the funniest video. Lol.") or sound more like ad-speak than a legitimate status update. Be cautious about giving out your information or allowing any application you're not familiar with to access your data.

Fortunately, the consequences of this particular Facebook scam are more embarrassing than dangerous. If you are caught, go into your application settings and delete the application. (See the report from security firm Sophos [3] for more information.)

Grandchildren in trouble

How it works: The stories vary - it could be a car crash, an arrest, kidnapping or other disaster - but the premise is the same. The crook calls claiming to be grandchild who is in trouble and needs cash immediately. When seniors are caught off-guard and surprised, the impersonations can sound surprisingly plausible. Sometimes the caller has done their homework on social media sites for details to lend truth to their tales, other times they'll take cues from the grandparents, like asking "do you know who this is?" to get a name.

According to media reports, this scam has been spreading across Canada after becoming well-established in the U.S. Victims have been tapped for sums as high as several thousand dollars, and some were even approached a second time.

How to fight it: This scam typically targets seniors. If you know someone who may be at risk, experts advise to talk about the scam and how to react to a call. The best response is simply to hang up. If the call upsets you or you think it might be real, write down the details and call the grandchild's family to confirm his or her whereabouts. Chances are your loved one is safe and sound.

Acai berry products and other "free trials"

How they work: Superfoods are all the rage, and acai berries promise to help you lose weight, combat aging and even fight against colon cancer. The internet is full of ads for free trials of these expensive supplements - so what have you got to lose? After all, they must be good because they appear on popular websites and they've got a picture of Oprah Winfrey or Rachael Ray, right?

Unfortunately, the products usually aren't what they claim to be - many contain additives, fillers, undeclared pharmaceuticals (like laxatives) and potentially harmful contaminants. Those free trials quickly turn into expensive monthly shipments that are difficult to stop.

These schemes have been around for a while, but they've become so problematic that agencies like the Better Business Bureau (BBB) and the U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) are openly saying they're scams. Currently, the FTC is toughening up its crackdown on these product providers.

How to fight them: Don't give in to temptation. If you want to try acai berry products, purchase them from a reputable store or business - but you might want to do your research first. While acai berries are a good source of anti-oxidants, there's no proof they'll help you lose weight or fight off specific diseases like colon cancer.

If you do plan to take advantage of any free trial, experts advise to make sure to read the details thoroughly and know what you're getting into. Pay by credit card instead of debit so you'll have the option of disputing the charges later on.

Perhaps we can't avoid all the scams out there, but we're better able to avoid them when armed with the right information. If you or someone you know is approached or caught by any scam, experts recommend reporting it so that others can be warned too. Crooks rely on people being too embarrassed to contact police or anti-fraud organizations about the crime.

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