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Beware of scams to separate you from your money

You know the old saying about "a fool and his money ... "

Well it may be old but it's still true.

Are you ready to hand over your credit card to a "census worker"? Or wire $500 to Canada to someone who claims to be your grandson? Would you take a trip to Tiffany & Co. with a new "best friend," the one who says she's an heiress?

April Fool's Day may be behind us, but scammers work year-round to fool you -- and cost you a bundle.

--Beware of census scammers: By now, you're supposed to have mailed back your 10-question 2010 census form. If it's not returned, a census worker could show up at your home.

But consumer watchdogs are warning of scammers posing as census employees.

This could start with an e-mail, too.

"If you get an e-mail from the Census Bureau that says we want information, that's not us," said Kim Hunter, media specialist for the Census Bureau's Detroit region.

Nor will census workers call or ask you to complete a form online or ask you for your Social Security number or other financial information. Even if you have caller ID, you need to realize that con artists can "spoof" their number to make it look official.

Yes, some census workers will be going door-to-door at some point. Hunter said they will have a badge that does not have a picture. But you can ask to see a driver's license.

A census worker should not enter your home -- or ask for money. If you are wary, don't feel silly about being cautious.

--Sorry, wrong number: Scammers have figured out a way to rip you off by shifting one digit in a phone number.

Shortly after Toyota launched its free recall-information help line -- 800-331-4331 -- crafty scammers obtained a phone number that was very close to the Toyota line, according to the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan.

Some consumers who dialed the wrong number were asked for their Social Security numbers.

Others heard a recording that told them to call another 800 number. Then nearly $6 was added to their phone bill.

Psychic hotlines and horoscopes use the same trick when they ask you to press a certain digit that routes your call to a high-priced 900-number.

Read all your phone bills -- and dispute the charges.

--The heiress heist: As much as I'd like to imagine that someone is willing to hand me $12.5 million, even I know that an exotic e-mail from someone named "Toure Celine" must be deleted.

One Monday morning, this so-called heiress said she needed my help with her dough.

Who wouldn't be thrilled to devote a Monday to spending someone's millions?

Ah, but once the scam artists get your account information -- they'll say they need it to deposit the funds -- they'll use that data to rip you off. They also may try to get you to wire money. Don't.

--Family fraud: If someone claiming to be a relative calls and begs for money to get out of trouble, be extra careful. Make sure you know who's really on the line.

Scammers are known to check obituaries and pick up on names of grandkids to get money from senior citizens, according to a March report in the AARP Bulletin.

A caller might say: "Grandma, this is Susie and I've been arrested in Toronto. But I don't want Dad to know. Can you wire me $3,000?"

Victims are being fooled because sometimes Susie says she has a cold or maybe mentions other family names or details.

Internet postings for funerals also can contain what might seem like innocent but fairly private information -- stuff that a savvy scammer could use on the phone.

Tell Susie to call Dad.

Don't be a fool with your money -- on April 1 or any day of the year.



--When it comes to your money, even if somebody says he or she is your grandchild, check it out. Scammers are not above pretending to be a loved one to separate you from some cash.

--Do not wire money to people that you do not know.

--Remember that even people who are supposed to be professionals -- including tax preparers -- can be running scams. For example, Michael Grimshaw of Mayville, Mich., was sentenced to 49 months in prison after preparing 63 income tax returns during 2004 and 2005 that claimed fictitious car and truck expenses for businesses. Grimshaw also was ordered to pay more than $51,000 in restitution to the Internal Revenue Service.

--Never give your Social Security number or credit card number to callers.