Every person is a potential target of a consumer scam, as anyone with an email account knows. The rise of computers and the internet have spawned new methods of consumer fraud, which can now be committed by someone in another state or even another country. But we still face plenty of fraud committed through telephone solicitations, door-to-door and mail-order sales, and a host of other types of fraud.
National Consumer Protection Week is a good occasion to reflect on the importance of protecting consumers and promoting responsible consumer activity. Wisconsin has strong laws protecting consumers, and my office will continue to enforce those laws vigorously. In the past couple of years, my office has filed cases against telemarketers, remodeling contractors, internet vendors, telecommunications companies, locksmiths, phony charities, travel clubs, fitness centers, and many other types of businesses who have tried to take unfair advantage of Wisconsin residents.
We will continue to take strong action against those who violate our consumer protection laws. But the best way to prevent consumer fraud from happening in the first place is for consumers to follow basic precautions so that they can recognize consumer fraud and avoid falling victim to it.
Here are some basic tips every consumer should follow:
* Be wary of solicitations from persons or entities you are not familiar with. There are numerous ways to check out companies, including the Better Business Bureau (“BBB”).
* Beware of dramatic promotions or claims. Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
* Do not respond to emails that seek account or other financial information. Legitimate companies do not send such emails. When in doubt, call the financial institution or company to confirm that the inquiry is legitimate.
* Paying with a credit card provides more protections to buyers than other forms of payment, such as cash, checks or debit cards.
* Avoid transactions that require you to wire money to someone you don’t know.
* Read “the fine print” and keep good records of your transactions.
* Before you donate to a charity you are not familiar with, be sure to check it out carefully. Many resources are available on-line, including the BBB.
An educated consumer is the enemy of would-be scammers. By taking proper precautions, and by reporting illegal activity to law enforcement, we can work together to defeat consumer fraud.
-- Van Hollen, a Republican, is Wisconsin's attorney general. The federal district court in Chicago is hearing the first arguments on the states' motion for preliminary injunction on Monday.