Keep Your Cash: Five Scams to Avoid

Answer: More good detective work by my readers. Before buying anything on the Internet, take two steps: 1) Google the name of the company (put it in quotes) and the word "scam" and see if you get a lot of hits. 2) Go to www.bbb.org and check the company's reputation with the Better Business Bureau. If you still feel uncertain, skip it and make your purchase from a known retailer that also has brick-and-mortar storefronts where you can go to complain, if needed.

Question: My elderly husband is nine years older than me, and has had serious health problems in the recent past. He has a major credit card in his name only. Just one card. He sometimes gives me the card to use for grocery shopping, etc., and I always sign his name on the receipt at the store. In the event something happens to him, will I be held responsible for the balance on the card?

-- RT, Desoto, Texas

Answer: This is one of those times when ethics and law don't quite match up. As long as your own name is not on your husband's credit card, you are not responsible for paying it off if he dies. But if you are enjoying the benefit of making purchases on that card, then you will have to grapple with your own morals as to what sense of responsibility you feel to pay (at least part of) the debt.

Question: I saw a Web posting about "selling" a home using essay contests, raffles and other means of transferring a house to a new owner via a contest of some kind. I need to know, do these work? Are they legal? I want to try a contest to help a friend move a property in Northern California that has not sold in two years; I'd like to know if this is a legitimate way to go.

-- SB, Willits, Calif.

Answer: Contests and raffles can be a legitimate way to move a property, but you need to check with a real estate attorney because the details vary from state to state. Often a charity must be involved. But bear in mind, that holding a contest to dispose of a property isn't necessarily profitable. Good Morning America recently did a story about a family that decided to raffle their house off for the benefit of a charity. The written agreement was that the family got a certain percentage of the proceeds. They lost money on the deal. I applaud you for thinking creatively. Here's a simpler idea for successfully selling a property. Lower the price. In real estate, it's all about price. Period.

Question: You said in an article that credit card companies will lower my credit score if I get them to forgive some of the $15,000 of credit card debt that I have. Do you know by how much? My current average score is 780. I live in Michigan if that makes a difference.

-- IE, Dexter, Mich.

Answer: Let's straighten one thing out. Credit card companies do not score you or have the power to change your score. They simply report your payment record to the big three credit bureaus, which then use credit scoring statistical models (like the famous FICO score developed by Fair Isaac) to analyze a bunch of factors, including that payment history the credit card company reported to them.

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