Don't be fooled by these popular scams

Congratulations, you have been approved for a lump sum payout of US $815,810.00. Fill out the attached Processing Form and fax it back to your Claim Agent...

Make $10,000 a month by working just a few hours a week...

Deposit the enclosed check for $5,000 and send $2,500 back to us by Western Union or MoneyGram...

Crooks take advantage of innocent consumers daily through a variety of scams. Their offers are everywhere, and it can be hard to distinguish the real from the fake. But it pays to be on your guard: Unsuspecting consumers who fall prey to these offers can become identity theft victims or lose hundreds, even thousands of dollars to scammers.

You can protect yourself by learning to recognize the most common scams. The stories may vary slightly, but most scams fall into five main categories:

  1. Bogus Prizes, Sweepstakes and Lotteries The scam: You receive a letter or an email informing you that you've won a large cash prize, often from a foreign lottery. However, you must pay an "administrative" or "processing" fee and/or provide personal information before your prize can be sent to you. In another variation of the same scheme, the scammer sends you a check to deposit to your account with instructions to return a portion of those funds to the sender. The checks look real but are fraudulent. What you should do: Do not send funds as requested, and never provide personal or financial information to someone who has sent you an unsolicited letter or email.
  2. Cash Grants, Credit Repair and Advance-Fee Loan Offers The scam: You're offered a loan, a grant or help repairing your credit, but you'll have to pay a fee in order to get it. What you should do: Don't fall for it. Legitimate grants don't need to be repaid, and there are no quick fixes for bad credit.
  3. Work-At-Home Schemes The scam: You can make thousands of dollars just by working at home a few hours a week. You may have to pay an up-front fee for the opportunity, buy a "kit" to get started or call a 900 number for more information. What you should do: Get earnings claims in writing before you invest any money. If the opportunity costs $500 or more, the company must back up the earnings claim in a written document. Consult a lawyer or accountant before signing any business deals.
  4. Fake Internet Auctions The scam: You purchase merchandise online that is never delivered or is less valuable than promised. What you should do: Know your seller and check their online feedback rating. Know what you're bidding on and the conditions of the sale, including the seller's return policy. If you buy, use a credit card, because it offers the most protection for you if the purchase doesn't meet your expectations.
  5. Foreign Money Order or "Nigerian Letter" Racket The scam: Someone in a foreign country (often but not always Nigeria) offers to share a large sum of money with you if you give them your bank account number to help them transfer the funds to the United States. What you should do: Never give personal or financial information to someone who has sent you an unsolicited letter or email.

The scams listed above are the most common, but they certainly aren't the only scams out there. You can protect yourself by keeping these general guidelines in mind:

  • Remember the old adage, "If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is." Resist the temptation.
  • Don't deal with unrecognized businesses that have no telephone number or use a PO box or mail drop instead of a legitimate street address. Call the Better Business Bureau for your area if you're not sure about a business.
  • Be suspicious of any offer loaded with pressure words, such as "urgent" or "final deadline."
  • Ignore immediate requests for a check, money order or cash to be picked up by a courier or sent to a PO box or mail drop.
  • Don't do business with companies that don't answer your questions or give only vague answers.

If you receive an offer and aren't sure if it's legitimate or not, you may want to consult one or more of the following:

Your local Better Business Bureau. Find your local bureau at

Your state Attorney General. (In Ohio, you can reach the Attorney General's Consumer Protection office at 800.282.0515.)

The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Response Center at 877.FTC.HELP.