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Staying smart and safe in a world full of scams

Characteristics of fraud victims

We're talking scams on Marketplace Money this weekend. Take your pick: Ponzi schemes, real-estate rackets, even having your stuff held hostage by movers.

 I'm frequently asked how you can protect yourself from being fleeced by scammers. Tough question -- there's no one-size-fits-all answer. But there are a few general things everyone should keep in mind.

First, it may sound trite but the old adage applies: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. We'd all like to think we're the one person who's been offered a totally sweet deal. But chances are, the sweeter the deal, the more likely it's bogus. If you have any doubts, walk away first and ask questions later.

Remember, no one can protect you better than yourself, so do your homework. Take a close look at all credit card and phone bills. Sneaky charges can easily creep onto both. If you don't recognize a particular charge or fee, don't hesitate to call your bank or phone company.

And in this age of identity theft, you have to be your own I.D. cop. I don't think it pays to sign up for a credit-monitoring service unless you're already a fraud victim. Instead, you can get free copies of your credit reports at AnnualCreditReport.com. And if you space out each credit agency's report by four months, you can get a full year's worth of credit monitoring without paying a thing.

Also, check with your local AAA. Some state branches of the organization offer free credit monitoring to members.

The bottom line is that there's no shortage of con artists trying to separate you from your money. With a little effort, you keep them at bay.

Pretty much.

About the author

David Lazarus is an American business and consumer columnist for the Los Angeles Times.

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