Along with May flowers, one of the things that's sure to follow after April showers in Utah Valley is the annual Women's Conference at Brigham Young University. Each year, conference participants have the opportunity to attend seminars and workshops that address a variety of home, family and spiritual improvement topics. With Women's Conference approaching, the Daily Herald is using our weekly tips feature to offer a taste of what's in store.
These days, it seems like everyone wants your money. Some people, however, are a little less scrupulous about their means of access to your wallet. Instead of charging you for goods or services, scam artists try to get access to your bank account without providing anything in return except for a horrible sinking feeling and the potentially years-long headache of trying to put your life back together.
Darin Oviatt, associate dean of Continuing Education at BYU, will be talking about avoiding scams and fraud at Women's Conference next week. Oviatt spoke to the Daily Herald to discuss how to steer clear of some of the most common pitfalls.
1 Don't take the bait: One of the most common scams is phishing, typically carried out via email, in which a scammer poses as a bank, credit card service or other financial or government institution and asks the recipient to reply with confidential information such as PIN codes or passwords. Your actual bank, credit card company, or transaction service (such as PayPal), Oviatt said, will never contact you via email to ask for confidential information.
"They have that information; they're not going to need to reach out to you," Oviatt said. "Their communications with you are going to be market-driven -- they want to sell you more products and services."
2 Trust me: A growing problem in many places is what's known as affinity fraud: Thieves attempt to con you by taking advantage of an existing relationship or position of trust. Be careful, Oviatt said, how you evaluate any financial or other opportunity that's presented to you by someone who encourages your involvement based on personal relationships. "They may be a member of your family, or a member of your faith," Oviatt said. "It's a real problem in trusting communities."
3 The opportunity of a lifetime: Many scammers seek to convince you that you've been offered a limited opportunity to get a huge return on your investment. Such claims may be backed by convincing data. Whether or not you believe the numbers, Oviatt said, a more reliable indicator the voice in the back of your head. "If somebody approaches you with something that sounds to good to be true," Oviatt said, "it probably is."
4 Please give: Another problem that's gotten worse in recent years is that of fraudulent relief organizations. These are groups or individuals that seek to take advantage of people's charitable impulses by asking for "donations" in the aftermath of public tragedies. Oviatt said that following the Boston Marathon bombing, for instance, dozens of URLs directly referencing the attack were purchased by ... well, some of them may have been purchased for legitimate purposes. Others, not so much.
"It's a simple way to take advantage of people's compassion," Oviatt said. The best way to avoid such scams is to make donations only to well known and reputable charities that have an established history.
5 Prudence = patience: When investigating any investment opportunity, take time to do your research. Legitimate financial consultants won't pressure you to invest immediately, and once the money is out of your hands, you've lost most of your control over what happens to it. "If you've turned money over to someone who's making investments for you, there's really not much you can do to get it back if the situation goes bad," Oviatt said.
6 Be your own watchdog: Take advantage of the tools provided by banks and credit card companies to monitor your finances. With most lenders, Oviatt said, you can ask to receive an alert every time a credit card or banking transaction is made. You can typically set the amount of transaction needed to trigger an alert as high or as low as you like. You can also monitor your finances by checking your credit report at least once per year.
7 Internet assistance: Scammers can use the Web to catch you, but you can also use it catch them. Check your state's consumer protection agency -- www.consumerprotection.utah.gov in Utah -- for tips on avoiding scams. There are many other organizations, such as the AARP (which pitches in because retired people are frequently targeted by scammers; more info at www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud), that offer assistance in protecting your interests.
Even the simplest steps can sometimes protect you from attempted fraud. "If someone's approached you with an investment you're not certain about," Oviatt said, "Google their name. See if there are other complaints out there."
If you go:
When: May 2-3
Where: Brigham Young University
Cost: $52 (full conference), $32 (single day); online registration ends April 26
Info: (801) 422-8925, ce.byu.edu/cw/womensconference/index.php