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Frank Gray

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Avoid being scammed; do your homework

Seldom does a day go by that I don’t get a call from people complaining about someone trying to scam them, either online or on the phone.

Sometimes the story is that they’ve won the lottery, but they’ve got to wire someone a few hundred dollars in taxes in order to collect it.

There’s the grandma scam, in which a person claiming to be their grandson is begging them to wire money to Canada so they can get out of jail.

Or a friend has been mugged in London and needs someone to wire him money so he can get home.

Online, people are offering bogus jobs, selling bogus cars, and renting or selling homes they don’t own.

In the real world, though, some things never change.

Indiana’s attorney general released a list of the top 10 consumer complaints that his consumer protection division received in 2012, and once again, used car sales and service topped the list.

Non-delivery of a car’s title is a common complaint, along with paying for an extended warranty that isn’t honored, the agency told me.

Sometimes, people will return a car to a dealership for warranty repair, and the car will sit there and the work will never be done.

The attorney general’s advice? Have a car inspected before you buy it, read and understand the purchase agreement before you sign it, and make sure terms of any warranty are spelled out in the contract.

If you hire a repair shop, get an estimate first, make sure all the work is explained to you, ask to be shown any new major parts installed, and get all guarantees in writing.

Internet sales and scams are No. 2 on the list this year. The advice is to research companies before buying online, get their physical address, use a credit card or a service such as PayPal to pay for items, and save all confirmation numbers from Internet purchases.

Meanwhile, ignore unsolicited emails and any requests for personal information.

Debt collectors were No. 3. The advice is to make sure you’re being contacted about a legitimate debt by a lawful creditor, and demand verification of the debt.

Bogus foreclosure consultants were No. 4. Some outfits claim to be able to prevent a foreclosure – for a fee – and then do nothing once you’ve paid them. The Indiana Foreclosure Prevention Network is a legitimate non-profit organization that can help.

Building contractors were No. 5. Avoid people going door-to-door offering home improvements and offering special today-only prices. Always demand a written estimate, get other estimates, get contracts in writing and never pay for an entire job in advance.

Telemarketers were No. 6. They often offer phony sales pitches, and if you are on the Do Not Call list, you can be sure the call is a scam.

Identity theft was No. 7; retail stores’ refund, layaway and gift certificate policies were No. 8; landlord-tenant disputes were No. 9; and wireless phone providers were No. 10.

The best piece of advice anyone can offer is to read all agreements and contracts and understand them, and don’t sign them if there is a concern.

The attorney general’s complaint list generally does not include what it calls “unknown correspondents,” a category that includes online con artists whose identities and locations can be almost impossible to determine.

Frank Gray reflects on his and others’ experiences in columns published Sunday, Tuesday and Thursday. He can be reached by phone at 461-8376, by fax at 461-8893, or by email at fgray@jg.net. You can also follow him on Twitter @FrankGrayJG.

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