As 2008 draws to a close, the Federal Trade Commission has nine consumer tips that can yield big dividends next year. Recognizing a good deal, staying safe online, managing credit and debt, and reporting scams and deceptive offers are more important than ever in these uncertain economic times. The FTC’s tips this year include:
- Get a free copy of your credit report. Visit www.annualcreditreport.com or call 877-322-8228 to request a free credit report, once every 12 months from each of the nationwide consumer credit reporting companies. AnnualCreditReport.com is the only site consumers can depend on for a truly free credit report with no strings attached. To learn more about credit, mortgages, debt collection, and other financial issues visit www.ftc.gov/credit.
- Stay safe online. The Internet provides access to information, entertainment, financial offers – in short, a world of countless products and services. But unless security software is used and kept up-to-date, consumers can be left vulnerable to scammers, identity thieves, phishers, and more. Computer security is available – in plain language – at www.onguardonline.gov.
- Deter identity theft. Information packages at www.ftc.gov/idtheft can help deter, detect, and defend against ID theft, and minimize the damage it can cause. Consumers who are concerned that they may be a victim of identity theft can visit www.ftc.gov/idtheft or call 877-ID-THEFT.
- Foil a phone fraudster. Criminals use the phone to commit many different types of fraud, including sweepstakes and lottery frauds, loan fraud, buying club memberships, and credit card scams. Find out how to avoid them at www.ftc.gov/phonefraud.
- Register a number. The National Do Not Call Registry gives consumers a choice about whether to receive telemarketing calls at home. Legitimate telemarketers should not call phone numbers that have been on the Registry for 31 days. If calls are received, consumers can file a complaint with the FTC. To register a home or mobile phone number for free, visit www.donotcall.gov or call 888-382-1222 from the number to be registered.
- Teach a kid about commerce. Take a kid to www.ftc.gov/youarehere – a virtual mall with interactive activities that provide lessons about advertising, marketing, and the benefits of competition. At this free site, kids can design and print advertisements, uncover suspicious claims in an ad, and play games that reveal the secrets behind pricing.
- Save your energy. Consumers can save energy and money – whether they are buying a new refrigerator or trying to reduce their home heating and cooling bills. Find out how to save money in virtually every room of the home at www.ftc.gov/energysavings.
- Have some healthy skepticism. Consumers can learn how to spot health scams, such as fake cancer cures and bogus weight loss products, and do some research on buying generic drugs, Lasik eye surgery, and using dietary supplements. Consumers can learn about rights they may not even know they had – like the right to obtain a copy of prescriptions for eyeglasses or contact lenses at www.ftc.gov/health.
- Report a rip-off. Your complaints can help detect patterns of wrong-doing, and lead to investigations and prosecutions. The FTC enters all complaints it receives into Consumer Sentinel, a secure online database that is used by thousands of civil and criminal law enforcement authorities worldwide. File your complaint at www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov
The Federal Trade Commission works for consumers to prevent fraudulent, deceptive, and unfair business practices and to provide information to help spot, stop, and avoid them. To file a complaint in English or Spanish, visit the FTC’s online Complaint Assistant or call 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357). The FTC enters complaints into Consumer Sentinel, a secure, online database available to more than 1,500 civil and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. The FTC’s Web site provides free information on a variety of consumer topics.
(FYI nine tips)