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Consumer Scams: 9 New Rip-offs on the Rise

As a follow-up to my recent post on how to fight bad customer service, I've got nine new consumer scams and rip-offs, as tracked by the Consumer Federation of America (CFA), the National Association of Consumer Agency Administrators (NACAA), and the North American Consumer Protection Investigators (NACPI).

The groups looked at the most popular consumer complaints of 2010 -- which included faulty auto repairs, leasing and towing disputes, false advertising and credit card billing disputes.

Along the way, they also identified the newest types of rip-offs and complaints, which I thought were most important to share.

Here are their findings:

1. Inadequate disclosures about expiration dates or other limitations on group discount coupons. There's actually a new class-action lawsuit against Groupon claiming that the company's deals should not be allowed to expire because of state laws regulating gift cards.

2. Medical billing problems, in which consumers are caught between health service providers and insurance companies in disputes about whether claims were properly submitted or should be covered.

3. Companies that offered to buy used cars but never paid off the liens on the vehicles, or whose checks to the car sellers' bounce.

4. "Recovery services" that falsely promise to retrieve money that consumers have lost to timeshare resale companies.

5. Major data breaches that have resulted in barrages of complaints from consumers worried about ID theft. Most recent cases: Citi and Sony.

6. Problems with lack of documentation for contracts for wireless television service.

7. Billing disputes involving unauthorized debits to consumers' bank accounts spanning many years.

8. The "grandparent scam," in which consumers receive calls, emails or Facebook messages purporting to be from a friend or relative in some sort of emergency situation and asking the recipients to wire money to help.

9. Tax-related scams in which consumers receive official-looking correspondence offering help with property tax adjustments or other tax assistance for a fee. (Hint: You may be able to get that help from the government for free.)


I also found a few of the tips the consumer advocacy groups provided in their report to be really helpful:

  • Use gift cards and coupons ASAP. At the risk of the store or merchant going out of business, the consumer groups advise using your gift cards and coupons - including vouchers from daily deal sites Groupon and LivingSocial sooner rather than later. "It may be impossible to get refunds for the unused balances on gift cards and gift certificates or to use discount coupons that you have paid for," the groups say.
  • Pay in increments. For big service projects, like a home improvement renovation or a catered event, pay a small amount upfront and hold onto the balance until closer to the end of the project or event. That way, in case things go awry, you have most of your money protected.
  • Look for red flags. Always be wary of requests to wire money or provide your bank/credit card information via email.
Other signs of potential fraud: Scare tactics or pressure to act immediately; promises that you can borrow, win or make money easily if you pay a fee in advance; unexpected requests for your personal information; and offers to recover money that you've lost to scammers, for a fee.
Farnoosh Torabi is a personal finance journalist and commentator. She is the author of the new book Psych Yourself Rich, Get the Mindset and Discipline You Need to Build Your Financial Life. Follow her at and on Twitter/farnoosh More on MoneyWatch
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