1. Internet Auctions
The Bait: Shop in a "virtual marketplace" that
offers a huge selection of products at great deals.
The Catch: After sending their money, consumers say
they've received an item that is less valuable than promised, or,
worse yet, nothing at all.
The Safety Net: When bidding through an Internet
auction, particularly for a valuable item, check out the seller and
insist on paying with a credit card or using an escrow service.
2. Internet Access Services
The Bait: Free money, simply for cashing a check.
The Catch: Consumers say they've been
"trapped" into long-term contracts for Internet access or
another web service, with big penalties for cancellation or early
The Safety Net: If a check arrives at your home or
business, read both sides carefully and look inside the envelope to
find the conditions you're agreeing to if you cash the check. Read
your phone bill carefully for unexpected or unauthorized charges.
3. Credit Card Fraud
The Bait: Surf the Internet and view adult images online for
free, just for sharing your credit card number to prove you're over
The Catch: Consumers say that fraudulent promoters
have used their credit card numbers to run up charges on their cards.
The Safety Net: Share credit card information only
when buying from a company you trust. Dispute unauthorized charges on
your credit card bill by complaining to the bank that issued the card.
Federal law limits your liability to $50 in charges if your card is
4. International Modem Dialing
The Bait: Get free access to adult material and pornography
by downloading a "viewer" or "dialer" computer
The Catch: Consumers complained about exorbitant
long-distance charges on their phone bill. Through the program, their
modem is disconnected, then reconnected to the Internet through an
international long-distance number.
The Safety Net: Don't download any program to access
a so-called "free" service without reading all the
disclosures carefully for cost information. Just as important, read
your phone bill carefully and challenge any charges you didn't
authorize or don't understand.
5. Web Cramming
The Bait: Get a free custom-designed website for a 30-day
trial period, with no obligation to continue.
The Catch: Consumers say they've been charged on
their telephone bills or received a separate invoice, even if they
never accepted the offer or agreed to continue the service after the
The Safety Net: Review your telephone bills and
challenge any charges you don't recognize.
6. Multilevel Marketing Plans/
The Bait: Make money through the products and services you
sell as well as those sold by the people you recruit into the program.
The Catch: Consumers say that they've bought into
plans and programs, but their customers are other distributors, not
the general public. Some multi-level marketing programs are actually
illegal pyramid schemes. When products or services are sold only to
distributors like yourself, there's no way to make money.
The Safety Net: Avoid plans that require you to
recruit distributors, buy expensive inventory or commit to a minimum
7. Travel and Vacation
The Bait: Get a luxurious trip with lots of
"extras" at a bargain-basement price.
The Catch: Consumers say some companies deliver
lower-quality accommodations and services than they've advertised or
no trip at all. Others have been hit with hidden charges or additional
requirements after they've paid.
The Safety Net: Get references on any travel company
you're planning to do business with. Then, get details of the trip in
writing, including the cancellation policy, before signing on.
8. Business Opportunities
The Bait: Be your own boss and earn big bucks.
The Catch: Taken in by promises about potential
earnings, many consumers have invested in a "biz op" that
turned out to be a "biz flop." There was no evidence to back
up the earnings claims.
The Safety Net: Talk to other people who started
businesses through the same company, get all the promises in writing,
and study the proposed contract carefully before signing. Get an
attorney or an accountant to take a look at it, too.
The Bait: Make an initial investment in a day trading system
or service and you'll quickly realize huge returns.
The Catch: Big profits always mean big risk.
Consumers have lost money to programs that claim to be able to predict
the market with 100 percent accuracy.
The Safety Net: Check out the promoter with state and
federal securities and commodities regulators, and talk to other
people who invested through the program to find out what level of risk
10. Health Care Products/Services
Items not sold through traditional suppliers are
"proven" to cure serious and even fatal health problems.
The Catch: Claims for "miracle" products
and treatments convince consumers that their health problems can be
cured. But people with serious illnesses who put their hopes in these
offers might delay getting the health care they need.
The Safety Net: Consult a health care professional
before buying any "cure-all" that claims to treat a wide
range of ailments or offers quick cures and easy solutions to serious
The FTC works for the consumer to
prevent fraudulent, deceptive and unfair business practices in the
marketplace and to provide information to help consumers spot, stop
and avoid them. To file a complaint
or to get free
information on consumer issues, visit www.ftc.gov
or call toll-free, 1-877-FTC-HELP (1-877-382-4357); TTY:
1-866-653-4261. The FTC enters Internet, telemarketing, identity theft
and other fraud-related complaints into Consumer
Sentinel, a secure, online database available to hundreds of civil
and criminal law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad