There are a number of steps you can take to keep your money and personal information safe. Scammers are salespeople. Their job is to look good and sound good. They want to earn your trust so you will give them your money. So don't get carried away by a charismatic salesperson. By the same token, don't give in to someone who's insistent or pushy. No, you don't need to act now. Any offer can wait long enough for you to ascertain its legitimacy. Don't let your good manners get in the way of making an intelligent decision.
When someone offers you an investment opportunity, get a prospectus for the deal. Research the company before you invest in it. Discuss the opportunity with the owners of the company, not just the sales agent. Talk to your family, friends and professional advisers about the opportunity.
Be smart with your personal and financial information. Don't let your mail sit in your mail box, especially if it is not a locked box, and consider using a post office to send your outgoing mail (instead of letting it sit in the mailbox for the postal worker to pick up). Shred bank and credit card statements and old bills. Don't keep your debit card PIN in your wallet -- keep it buried in a file cabinet or, better yet, a safe. Likewise, keep your Social Security card in a safe place, and don't give the number out except when necessary. Don't give your banking information out to someone who calls you or sends you an e-mail out of the blue.
Fraud isn't always as obvious as outright stealing. Review your bank and credit statements for unauthorized charges. If you don't know where a charge came from, contact the merchant (often the merchant's contact information is listed in the charge on your statement) and your bank. Occasionally order your credit report to make sure no one is opening credit accounts in your name. Although you are entitled by federal law to receive a credit report once per year at no charge, make sure you get the report from a legitimate, FTC-approved source. Many companies claim to give you a free credit report, but usually this involves buying something else to receive your "free" report. Buying something means you didn't get it for free.
As for online security, make sure a Web site is secure before you type in identifying information, particularly with bank and credit card sites. A Web site is secure if that little padlock shows up in the lower right corner of your browser (the upper right in Safari) and the URL begins with shttp or https. Keep your anti-virus and anti-spyware software running and updated. Beware those phishing scams, and keep your logins and passwords safe. Consider changing them on occasion.
Even when you follow these tips, fraudsters can find ways to get you. As soon as you realize you're being scammed or robbed, report it.
If you'd like to know more about fraud prevention, follow the links on the next page.