Avoid these 5 latest scams

Skimming at the pump and ATMs

How it works: You use your debit card to withdraw cash at an ATM or pay at the pump when filling up. Unbeknownst to you, criminals installed a small device in the machine to record your card’s information and your PIN number. They can then use the data to clone your card and withdraw cash from your account.

This scam isn’t new, but it’s been gaining popularity in the U.S. during the busy summer travel season, according to Consumer Reports .

Think it’s only happening in the U.S. ? Criminal gangs are moving into Canada too. (See Goldhawk Fights Back: A new wave of debit card fraud sweeps across Canada)

How to fight it: Look closely before you perform a transaction, even at your own bank. If you see anything suspicious, alert the bank or gas station owner. Don’t forget to shield the pad when typing in your PIN, and change those PINs every month or two. If you’re wary at the pump, pay inside instead. (For more information, see the warning from Consumer Reports .)

Fake order confirmations

How it works: You receive an email from a well-known company confirming an order you supposedly placed for an expensive product. You may think someone has gotten a hold of your account or credit card information, and your first reaction is to follow the links to check your order history or to contact customer service to find out what’s going on.

However, instead of solving the problem, you end up with a bigger one: a virus or other malware (malicious software) on your computer. These scams may also direct you to a spam website or phishing site.

So far, some pretty big names like Amazon.com and Zappo’s have been spoofed in these schemes, forcing companies and the Better Business Bureau (BBB) to issue warnings. The emails are becoming increasingly sophisticated and often use legitimate email addresses, links and graphics.

How to fight it: Like other potentially damaging spam emails, the best thing to do is delete them. Don’t reply, don’t click on any of the links and never give out any personal or financial information. If you’re concerned, check your bank and credit card statements before taking action.

If you do open the message or click on something you shouldn’t have, experts advise to run your anti-virus scan just to be on the safe side.

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Facebook “dislike” button (and other viral scams)

How it works: Frequent Facebook members know the “like” button doesn’t always cut it. Though users would often like to voice their disapproval, experts are warning there’s no such thing as an “official dislike button.” That doesn’t mean you won’t see prompts to download this rogue application, or posts claiming your contacts are using it. The application will access your profile and spread the scam to your friends, family and coworkers. You might even be asked to fill out a survey first – for which the perpetrator earns cash.

How to fight it: Experts advise caution when using any social media site. Ignore suspicious sounding ads, links and invites, even if they come from friends and followers. Beware of any generic updates in your news feed that seem out of character (like “OMG I just saw the funniest video. Lol.”) or sound more like ad-speak than a legitimate status update. Be cautious about giving out your information or allowing any application you’re not familiar with to access your data.

Fortunately, the consequences of this particular Facebook scam are more embarrassing than dangerous. If you are caught, go into your application settings and delete the application. (See the report from security firm Sophos for more information.)

Grandchildren in trouble

How it works : The stories vary – it could be a car crash, an arrest, kidnapping or other crisis – but the premise is the same; the fraudster calls claiming to be a grandchild in trouble and needs cash immediately. Sometimes the caller has done their homework on social media sites for details to lend truth to their tales, other times they’ll take cues from the grandparents, like asking “do you know who this is?” to get a name.

How to fight it : This scam typically targets seniors. If you know someone who may be at risk, experts advise to talk about the scam and how to react to a call. The best response is simply to hang up. If the call upsets you or you think it might be real, write down the details and call the grandchild’s family to confirm his or her whereabouts.

Acai berry products and other “free trials”

How they work : Superfoods are all the rage, and acai berries promise to help you lose weight, combat aging and even fight against colon cancer. The internet is full of ads for free trials of these expensive supplements.

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Unfortunately, the products may contain additives, fillers, undeclared pharmaceuticals (like laxatives) and potentially harmful contaminants. Those free trials quickly turn into expensive monthly shipments that are difficult to stop.

Currently, the FTC is toughening up its crackdown on these product providers. (Read the FTC’s press release for more information.)

How to fight it: If you want to try acai berry products, purchase them from a reputable store or business. Pay by credit card instead of debit so you’ll have the option of disputing the charges later on. And do your research, while acai berries are a good source of anti-oxidants, there’s no proof they’ll help you lose weight or fight off specific diseases like colon cancer.

If you or someone you know is approached or caught by any scam, experts recommend reporting it so that others can be warned.

For more information about scams and how to avoid them, visit the Fight Fraud section on 50Plus.com

Additional sources: BBC News, Better Business Bureau, local news reports.

Photo ©iStockphoto.com/ PeterAustin

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