Just say, No!" to emails promising millions

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By Catherine Holland By Catherine Holland

As our email boxes overflow with offers of get-rich-quick schemes, vitamins and Viagra, there are many scams that are, unfortunately, far too successful separating good people from their hard-earned dollars. This week, we'll take a look at a few tips that can save you money and possibly heartache. 

First, be wary of extravagant claims about performance or earnings. Nobody on the Internet is getting up each morning with their day’s objective to make you rich. The only person you can truly rely upon to watch out for your well-being is yourself. (And Mr. Modem, of course.) 

No matter what the offer or the enticement, don’t respond or get involved in anything brought to your attention through an Internet-based solicitation. If you received such a solicitation, so did millions of other potential victims.

If, despite my sage advice, you are considering purchasing an item for which you were solicited, read the fine print. Every word of it. Scam perpetrators frequently bury disclaimers and other information they don't want you to know about.

Steer clear of any company or organization that doesn’t display its name, street address and telephone number. Call any telephone number that is available and ask a few questions about the offer -- assuming you don’t repeatedly get an answering machine or endless layers of voice-mail menus, which would not be a good sign.  

Avoid “opportunities” that require you to recruit distributors, purchase inventory or commit to a minimum sales order.

Beware of shills or decoy references who are paid to describe their fictional success stories. This typically occurs within a “testimonials” section of a Web site. Never be pressured into making a decision to sign up for anything. In my experience, the greater the pressure, the bigger the scam.

Avoid “Web cramming,” which is a practice in which you are promised a free, custom-designed Web site for a 30-day trial period. Many of these scammers charge their services to your telephone bill and continue charging after the trial period, making it difficult, if not impossible, to break free. Review your monthly telephone and credit card statements and challenge any charges you do not recognize. Don't be passive!

Beware of Internet access or long-distance services that send you a check and the invitation to cash it. If you cash it, you may become mired in a long-term contract with substantial penalties for cancellation or early termination. If somebody you don’t know sends you a check, tear it up or feed it to the shredder. No good will come of it.

If you receive an offer to purchase a deeply discounted computer if you sign up for Internet access, run like the wind. These types of deals are usually long-term contracts that are extremely difficult to get out of. The Internet service is usually abysmal, yet you are stuck paying for the remainder of the agreement. And keep in mind that any deeply discounted computer is typically deeply discounted for one reason: It’s junk.

Bottom line: If you are presented with an offer that sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Heed Nancy Reagan's words and “Just say No."

Mr. Modem's Sites of the Week

Read Print
A relatively new online library offering thousands of free, printable books for students, teachers, and the classic-literature enthusiast. To find a book, look through the author index, or if you aren’t sure of the author, use the Search field to enter the name of the book. If you don’t know the name of the book or the author, perhaps this isn’t the site for you.

The Virtual Cave
A fascinating site devoted to the scientific intricacies of cave exploration.  Divided into four sections: Lava Tubes, Sea Caves, Erosional Caves, Solution Caves, but no Bat Caves or Man Caves, virtual spelunkers can browse photos and access a state-by-state guide to caves.

Mr. Modem publishes the weekly "Ask Mr. Modem!” computer-help newsletter at www.MrModem.com and the “Mr. Modem's Top 50 Computing Tips” series at www.amazon.com.