How to avoid getting ripped off - WMBFNews.com, Myrtle Beach/Florence SC, Weather

How to avoid getting ripped off

CONWAY, SC (WMBF) - Warnings and alerts have been issued regarding many bogus offers.

Most recently, Coastal Carolina University issued an alert against scrupulous solicitors going door-to-door. CCU leaders tell WMBF News these people are posing as CCU students and are asking for donations for their study abroad program. The university first learned about this when neighbors called the International Programs Department asking why they were doing this. CCU says their policy prohibits students from doing anything like this, so do not fall for it or give your money.

According to the Better Business Bureau of Coastal Carolina, these types of rip offs are very common during the fall and spring around college campuses and schools. BBB Coastal Carolina CEO, Kathy Graham, says it's because you feel it's safe to assume the kid knocking on your door really is from the school nearby. Typically they'll be selling magazines or asking for donations that will go towards a trip, study abroad, or group function. And they'll be asking for just enough that it won't seem suspicious.

Many don't question these solicitors, "because it's usually a minimal amount, they're not asking for thousands of dollars," Graham says. "So people are like, 'Yeah, I'll help you get to school.' And they'll write the check for $35. You get 100 people to do that, he's flying off to Tahiti and drinking margaritas."

And if you give these people cash or check and it turns out to be a rip off and you never get that magazine, there's very little chance you'll see that money again. CCU wants this to stop. The university has recommended that one woman who believes she was a victim of this to start a case with the Horry County Police Department. If you've seen this happen in your neighborhood or you've fallen for it, call police and CCU. They cannot help you if you do not report it

Swindlers are tricking folks face-to-face, via phone calls and hacking into personal information online. You're trying to make ends meet at the end of the year and you're scrimping all the extra cash you can for the holidays. And this is the time of year when crooks are waiting to pounce.

There are two types of schemes going around right now that the BBB says you need to be aware of. Crooks are putting new twists on old tricks, and it's working.

First, consider the "wire money" rip off. Right now the BBB is getting 10 calls a day from people saying they got a letter saying they won the lottery or a cruise. But to get your prize, you need to wire a few hundred or thousands of dollars, typically to a foreign account. These letters are normally from outside of the U.S. You cannot win a foreign lottery. As soon as you see the request to wire money, alarm bells should be sounding in your head.

Another wire scheme going around right now plays on your fears. Someone will call you in the middle of the night claiming to be the IRS or law enforcement. They'll say either you owe tons of money in back taxes or a relative was just arrested. They'll tell you if you don't wire money immediately, then the police are ready and waiting to arrest you. And to intimidate and threaten you even more, they'll look up your address on Google Maps and describe what your house looks like or what's in your yard. Federal, state, and local agencies will never use methods like this.

The second type of scam hitting the area right now includes an unfamiliar phone number. They will call and let it ring once or twice then hang up. The BBB says these crooks are targeting college-aged people because they are more willing to call back an unfamiliar number. If you do call that number back, you will immediately be charged $19 and then around $8 per minute you're on the phone after that. They get away with it because the phone number may look like a local area code at first, but it is really an international call.

"All the scams tend to be similar," says Graham. "Because they prey on emotion. They're either going to prey on someone you care about, something that makes you feel threatened, or something that's very urgent. And when those emotions are triggered, that is when they get away with it."

No matter what the rip off is, one of the biggest red flags should always be: urgency. If they're telling you it's now or never, or threatening you if you don't act immediately, you need to stop and do some research. If you think you're being duped, call the Better Business Bureau. They will be able to let you know for sure or lead you in the right direction.

Identity theft is the number one top crime for about four years running now, according to the BBB. And with South Carolina's history, you can never be too careful. It's all because three years ago the South Carolina Department of Revenue was breached.

Anyone who filed electronically since 2009 in the state, your identity was compromised. And it's not just yours, it's your children's as well. But just because the breach was years ago, doesn't mean everyone is now safe. You need to check your credit regularly. Because if you don't and someone has already stolen your identity, that crook is buying houses and cars and taking vacations on your identity and dime. That's your name connected to that crime. And you could be sent to jail for it and then have to prove that it wasn't actually you. This has truly happened in the past. And if someone's doing it with your kids' identity, they might never know until they're old enough to apply for college loans or buy a car. By then, the damage has already been done.

So the key is, check your credit now and check often. The data breach might have been a while ago, but the effects can be devastating and long-lasting if you aren't proactive.

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