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Fleeced

Experts say avoiding scams requires sharp wits, vigilance — and the occasional socially awkward moment.

Jimmy Magahern | Aug 1, 2011, 10:53 a.m.

— “We’re constantly handing over our credit cards and personal information to strangers, because as a society, that’s what we’ve become accustomed to,” says Nealy, explaining her reluctance to trust that “super-secret black leather folio” we’re presented at the end of every restaurant meal. “But you know what? There’s nothing wrong with telling people you’re concerned about getting scammed. These days, that’s just called being smart.”

The secret? Take control of your interactions with everyone who tries to take away some of your cash. If they’re coming to your door counting on some dull memory cells to take advantage of, hit ‘em with a collegiate’s notetaking skills — and use a uni-ball gel pen, experts say: the ink resists check-washing.

If your phone’s ringing because targeters think you’re lonely, put ‘em on hold to check with your son-in-law on any claims the solicitor makes about your jailed granddaughter needing a money wire.

And if they’re banking on you being a little more trusting than the younger homeowners on the block, it never hurts to greet them at the door with a good, long Larry David staredown.

Curb the Pressure

In almost every episode of the hit HBO sitcom Curb Your Enthusiasm, 64-year-old series star Larry David gets into a long, probing staring contest with an untrusted acquaintance or employs to the quizzical strains of Franco Micalizzi’s “The Puzzle,” sizing up whether his opponent is telling the truth about seemingly trivial matters — a neighbor stealing his morning newspaper, a waiter claiming not to have received a tip — all the while his wife and friends squirm in annoyance.

Irritations aside, the Larry David stare-down is a scam-busting superpower that most of us would do well to adopt, suggests Felicia Thompson, communications director for the Better Business Bureau of Central, Northern and Western Arizona.

“A lot of people feel pressured into entering into these bad deals, because the person’s either standing at the door asking you to ‘sign here’ or telling you on the phone you have to ‘act today,’” she says. As a general rule of thumb, Thompson advises grasping the reins of the conversation, and slowing it down.

First, be slow to provide information, she says. Often a scammer will count on you filling in the blanks, in order to extract more personal details out of you. That’s how the perennial “grandparents scam” operates: a caller will identify himself as “your favorite grandson,” counting on you to say, “Justin?” Once identified, “Justin” will ask you to wire that bailout money to Canada. Also, don’t be afraid to ask for time to mull over an offer, discuss it with family and to request a number to call back at your convenience. “Whenever somebody says ‘no’ to any of those reasonable requests, you can almost be sure it’s a scam.”

And lastly, realize one of the main reasons you’re being visited by a potential scammer is that they assume you have more time to get involved in their pitch. Show them you’re also in no particular hurry to act on anything they suggest.

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