In honor of my Caught Dead in Wyoming mystery series, my assistant Kay Coyte is writing for my newsletter and blog a series of consumer tips inspired by TV reporter Elizabeth Danniher.
Those key words, “Follow the money,” are most often associated with the Watergate film “All the President’s Men,” and source Deep Throat’s tip to reporter Bob Woodward. It’s a journalism given that Elizabeth also lives by. But “Freakonomics” co-author Stephen J. Dubner, asked to trace the phrase, found an earlier reference in a 1975 book in which a supervisor offers the advice to new officers joining his fraud department.
This came to mind when I read a late December announcement from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) that the agency’s Consumer Advice division has created a new website, ftc.gov/MoneyMatters (ftc.gov/AsuntosDeDinero in Spanish). This is a clearinghouse site for consumers to recognize, avoid, and report scams, and I would hope it would continually be updated, as scammers work hard to stay one step ahead of watchdogs and law enforcement. You can subscribe to the FTC’s Consumer Alerts blog for the latest news and scam warnings. The FTC also is hoping citizens will share this information within their own communities, offering social media-ready graphics, a video “trailer” and even slide shows you can present to your local civic organization, church group, knitting circle.
When you go to the Money Matters website, you’ll see that each of the icons in the graphic below refer to specific types of consumer fraud. From left, they are: Education and Training, Borrowing and Debit, Credit Reports, Buying and Owning a Car, Your Rights When Shopping, Avoiding a Scam When Looking for a Job, Buying or Renting a Home, and Prizes and Grants. You can scroll through the entire group or click to the section that most concerns you. Each section has a list of articles and consumer alerts (and the aforementioned shareable video, graphics and PowerPoint presentations). Note, some of these tips are a little dated — if you’re a regular reader of Consumer Tip, you’ll recognize a few of them.
The newest scam the FTC highlighted, during the Christmas shopping season, concerned buy now, pay later deals that some stores were touting. It sounded like a good deal, but dealing directly with businesses had some hidden risks. For example, you would give up some of the purchasing protections that come with credit card purchases.
Among the tips from that article:
—Know the costs (interest charges? fees?). Will the plan provider report your payments to credit bureaus?
—Read reviews. See what others have to say about any experience disputing a charge or returning an item.
—Understand the risks. What happens if you miss a payment? Will a credit check cause you problems?