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Be on the Lookout for Fake Checks and Cloned Cars

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Thursday, July 30, 2009

When times get tight and you're looking for ways to cut costs or raise cash, don't let your desperation make you an easy mark for a con artist.

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Take heed of several scams the Better Business Bureau says are increasingly snaring consumers. For example, the BBB is warning people about fake-check scams, which typically require the victim to deposit a check into his or her bank account and then give or wire money back to the scammer.

The BBB says victims of this scam are lured in three ways:

-- They answer an e-mail or letter claiming they've won a lottery or sweepstakes. The victim is sent a fake check, purportedly part of the winnings. The con artist's instructions call for depositing the check and sending back money for taxes or administrative fees. In June, a Nebraska woman lost more than $58,000 thinking she had won $11 million in a Jamaican lottery.

-- They think they are being paid to evaluate a store or service as an undercover "mystery shopper." The victim is told to deposit a check and use the money for shopping trips. Often included in the list of stores to evaluate is Western Union or MoneyGram. The scammer instructs the target to wire money to test the wiring service.

-- They are selling something online. A would-be purchaser sends a check for the item, but it's made out for more than the agreed-upon price. The seller is told to cash the check and wire the difference.

The Consumer Federation of America found that nearly a third of the respondents in one of its surveys said they had been approached with some form of fake-check scam. It said at least 1.3 million people have fallen for such a scam, losing an average of $3,000 to $4,000.

What's so dastardly about this scam is that the checks look so darn real. Even bank employees have a hard time telling the difference. Your bank might initially clear the check. But once the check works its way through the banking system and is discovered to be a fake, the depositor is on the hook and has to pay back the bank. For more about this scam, go to http://www.fakechecks.org.

Two Cars, One VIN

Looking to save money by buying a used car? Well, be careful. The BBB and the FBI say "car cloning" is on the rise.

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