It's not always easy to spot con artists. They're smart, extremely persuasive, and aggressive. They invade your home through the telephone and the mails, advertise in reputable newspapers and magazines, and come to your door.

Most people think they're too smart to fall for a scam. But con artists rob all kinds of people - from investment counselors and doctors to teenagers and elderly widows - of billions every year.

It's up to you to say no. Use common sense, and learn about new and old scams.


Anyone with a phone has probably talked to a con artist - someone promoting no-risk investments, offering contest prizes, or asking for donations to a familiar-sounding charity. These swindlers steal credit and phone numbers, promote bogus services such as job searches and loans, and sell all types of investments - land, gold, stocks, oil and gas leases, rare coins and stamps.

    •    If a caller asks for your credit card number to verify a free vacation or other gift, hang up. They'll use your number to charge purchases by phone.

    •    Make sure you know the charges before calling a 900 number. 800 numbers are free, 900 numbers aren't.

    •    Ask for a financial report if a caller requests a charitable donation. Reputable charities will always send this information if you ask.

    •    Never make an investment with a stranger over the telephone.


Most mail order companies are honest and stand behind their products. But many con artists use the mails to sell worthless products, medical quackery, and get-rich-quick schemes. Watch out for official-looking forms or postcards that say you can win a prize or vacation by calling a 900 number.

Other scams send items that were never ordered - a good luck charm, key chain, or greeting cards. You don't have to pay for merchandise you didn't order - return it, throw it away or keep it.

If you think you've been cheated in a mail fraud scheme, keep all the letters and envelopes and contact your nearest postal inspector (U.S. Postal Service), district or state attorney's office. 


Quackery, or health fraud, taps everyone's desire to find shortcuts to good health and good looks. Common scams promise cures for arthritis, cancer and AIDS. They sell baldness remedies, aphrodisiacs, and quick ways to lose weight. Be wary of exaggerated claims, testimonials, secret ingredients, attacks on traditional medicine or nutrition, and promises of quick cures.

These scams can be deadly. They can have harmful side effects and prevent people from getting proper medical treatment.


The Bank Examiner: someone posing as a bank official or Internal Revenue Service agent asks for your help (in person or via the telephone) to catch a dishonest teller. You are to withdraw money from your account and turn it over to him or her so the serial numbers can be checked or the money marked. You do, and you never see your money again!

The Pigeon Drop: a couple of strangers tell you they've found a large sum of money or other valuables. They say they'll split their good fortune with you if everyone involved will put up some "good faith" money. You turn over your cash, and you never see your money or the strangers again.

Home Repairs: every homeowner looks for good deals in repairs and improvements. But bargain repairs usually aren't bargains. Free inspections that reveal problems, workers who "just happened to be in the neighborhood," and usually low prices for normally expensive jobs signal fraud.


Don't feel foolish or stupid. Tell the police, your city or state consumer protection office, or a consumer advocacy group. Very few frauds are reported, which leaves the con artist free to rob more victims. 


    •    Alert your neighbors, co-workers, and Neighborhood Watch to con artists working the area.

    •    Senior citizens, teens, and civic groups can collect junk mail or log telemarketing calls, analyze the results, and pass the findings on to the state or district attorney or attorney general.

    •    If your community has a growing immigrant population, get this information translated into the appropriate foreign languages.