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Money October 2015

Dollar Sense

Stuff You Should Know to Stay Safe and Avoid Scams and Scoundrels

By Teresa Ambord

If you use an outdoor ATM don’t choose one on a corner of a building, especially if you are alone. A corner makes it easier for a thief to sneak up on you, grab your purse or wallet and quickly escape.

Scams that May Knock on Your Front Door: Warnings from the Federal Trade Commission

You may think because you don’t bank online or even own a computer and you shred all your documents that you are relatively safe from scams. True, you might be safer from some than those who live their lives online. But that won’t fully insulate you. My mom gets calls several times a week, informing her that she’s won cruises and cash and other fabulous prizes. She’s also gotten threatening calls from angry sounding people claiming to be IRS collectors. Thankfully, I’ve coached her enough that she knows better than to bite. But there are still other scams. The Federal Trade Commission warns about several scams that walk right up and knock on your door. Here are a few.

  • Home repair. Often these involve yard work or minor repairs around your home. The scammers offer to do the work cheaply and claim to have experience. Usually the job involves some kind of material the scammer needs to do the job, so they ask for payment up front to buy the materials. But of course, they take the money and don’t return.
  • Reconnect the Cable. Many people have tightened their belts, and often that means giving up cable service, while others have had it turned off for non-payment. Scammers have been perpetrating a fraud wherein they post flyers, claiming you can have your cable turned back on for an unbelievably low price. You make an appointment, pay the price, and your cable may even come on, for awhile. But even if it does, it’s completely illegal. Once the cable company catches on, you’re the one in hot water, not the long-gone scammer. There might even be legal ramifications.
  • Utility Scams. The power goes out. Someone shows up at your door claiming to be with your power company. For $50 he’ll reconnect your power, he says, so you pay. But he and your money are long gone, and he’s already busy conning someone else.


Here’s what the FTC says about how to protect your property and yourself:

  • Don’t let anyone come into your home unless you have a prescheduled appointment. You have the right to refuse to open your own door.
  • Don’t pay cash to anyone who comes to your home claiming to be with a utility company or other service provider.
  • Confirm any special offers with your service provider — using the number on your bill or their website. Also, be suspicious of a promotional flyer offering service from multiple providers.
    Competitors don’t typically advertise together.
  • If you’re struggling with your bill, most providers can make payment arrangements to restore your service legitimately.

If anyone promises a service, takes your money and doesn’t deliver, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission at and also with your state consumer protection agency.


Sundown Comes Earlier Each Day: Rethink How You Use an ATM

As falls rolls on, it’s getting dark earlier. That means we all need to rethink our activities, especially using an ATM. Security is always important, but even more so when shorter daylight hours collide with increased shopping for the holidays.

  • Whenever possible, use an ATM during daylight hours. If you must use one at night, take someone with you. Be careful if there are bushes nearby or other areas where a thief can hide. Drive all the way around the bank to see if there are people lurking.
  • Be ready before you get there, so you can quickly do your transactions and leave. Lingering only makes you a target, so don’t rifle through your purse or wallet. Don’t count your money. Don’t use your phone or do anything that gives the appearance of distraction.
  • Don’t leave your receipt. The Seattle Police Department warns people against leaving receipts. While a receipt won’t give a thief access to your account, it does tell someone who might be watching that you are an attractive target, carrying a wad of cash.
  • Choose your ATM carefully. The best ATM is inside a building. Make sure the area is well lit. Avoid standalone ATMs. The Los Angeles Police Department says if you use an outdoor ATM don’t choose one on a corner of a building, especially if you are alone. A corner makes it easier for a thief to sneak up on you, grab your purse or wallet and quickly escape.
  • If someone is behind you at a walk-up ATM, stand as close to the machine as you comfortably can, to shield the keypad from visibility.
  • If you are driving through, keep your engine on. Only open the window you must use to
    reach the ATM, keeping all other windows and doors locked.
  • If you sense someone is following you, drive calmly but go straight to a police department or fire station or other well-populated area.
  • Don’t wear flashy jewelry or carry expensive items that would attract thieves.
  • Act confident, not distracted or confused. Thieves specifically target people who don’t seem to be paying attention or who aren’t sure of what they are doing.
  • If the machine looks odd, damaged or different, don’t put your card in. Thieves might have visited during the night and installed their own card reader.
  • Don’t use your fingertips to key in your PIN. Why? Fingers have heat, and scammers have been known to use heat-reading devices that can capture your PIN from a distance. A thief with such a device can park down the street, aim the device at the ATM and read every keystroke based on the heat generated by fingers that touch the keys. Instead use a key or a coin or a pen, anything but your fingers.


Did You Know?

Nearly one of three cases of identity theft can be traced back to a close family member. Another 18% are committed by friends, neighbors, or in-home employees, according to credit bureau TransUnion.


Teresa Ambord is a former accountant and Enrolled Agent with the IRS. Now she writes full time from her home, mostly for business, and about family when the inspiration strikes.

Meet Teresa