6 Rip-Off Tip-Offs

Learn who's after your cash -- and how to keep them from getting it.

By Lisa Collier Cool from Reader's Digest | August 2008
  • Claims that you’ve won a “free” prize, or a fee to collect your “winnings”-for a contest you haven’t entered.
  • Companies that offer freebies to entice you into attending a high-pressure sales presentation, where there may be more incentives. You could lose sight of just how much this “free” deal could cost you.
  • Promises of insider discounts, special deals, or secret information offered exclusively by a firm. Often you can find better offers on your own.
  • Salespeople who pressure you to make an immediate financial commitment or to sign a contract you haven’t read.
  • Contracts or forms that are hard to understand. Even minor mistakes in filling out the form may be used as an excuse to avoid honoring the agreement.
  • Companies that won’t put their prices or promises in writing. A legitimate firm stands behind its deals and wants to give you what you need to make a smart decision.
  • Firms that do not provide contact information or that provide only an e-mail address or a post office box. After all, if you can locate them, authorities can too.

What to Do If You’ve Been Had

Send the company a written complaint, asking for a refund. Detail the problem and include any relevant documentation. If you paid by credit card, you can dispute the charge in cases of fraud and nondelivery of a product or service. If it’s a local business, consider suing in small-claims court.

  • To help prevent others from getting scammed, contact:
  • Your state’s attorney general (naag.org). If the company that victim_ized you operates in another state, notify that attorney general as well. If there are many complaints against the company, an attorney general may file a suit, which could win financial judgments for consumers or put the operation out of business.
  • The Federal Trade Commission (ftc.gov). You’ll find extensive information about common rip-offs and scams, plus an online complaint form.
  • The Better Business Bureau (bbb.org). It will contact companies about consumer complaints and issue fraud alerts to the public, media, and government agencies. It also has an online complaint form.