5 Scams Consumers Need to Know About

The National Consumers League says more consumers than ever are reporting that they have been victims of consumer fraud.

On average, a consumer fraud victim today loses between $2,000 and $3,000.

Most scams are recycled over and over again with new twists, so if you can learn to recognize a few classic cons, you can fight back against the crooks.

No. 1: The Phony Job Scam.

One woman posted her resume online and got a job offer to ship computer parts. She didn't want to reveal her name because of security concerns.

The supposed employer sent her a check, and she was supposed to cash it, wire the funds overseas, then wait for the parts. She did as she was told, but then her bank called.

"They said they had gone back to the bank, that the check was drawn and that the account was closed," she said.

The phony job scam counts on people depositing a bogus check and forwarding their own money to the crooks before they realize.

No. 2: The Overpayment Scam.

Julia Abrantes received a bank check for $3,800 from a man who'd been romancing her over the Internet. It was repayment for money she'd lent him -- plus some extra.

"I was supposed to keep $1,000 and send $2,800 to him," Abrantes said.

She, too, was sent a phony check. Luckily, by then Abrantes had learned on the Web that her online beau was actually a scammer in Nigeria.

No. 3: The Lottery Scam.

The mail brings good news: You've just won a foreign lotto. The letter says all you have to do is pay the taxes on your prize and you're rich. There's even a cashier's check enclosed to cover those taxes.

"One telltale sign that this is a scam is there is a telephone number for the bank," said Joe Ridout of Consumer Action. "Banks don't list their phone numbers on checks. The reason the number is there is so the victims will contact the perpetrators of the scam to verify the information rather than the bank itself."

All three of those scams involve phony checks. The problem is most banks initially cash them, which gives the consumer a false sense of security.

Later, the bank demands repayment from you, because, by law, you are responsible for the checks you deposit in your account.

Also be aware that wire transfers are now the No. 1 way scammers separate victims from their money.

No. 4: Vishing.

"Vishing" is a variation on "phishing."

Phishing is when crooks send e-mails that look like they're from banks or businesses and ask you for all sorts of financial information -- which they use to steal your identity.

Vishing is voicemail fishing. Instead of directing you to a fake Web site, the e-mail directs you to a telephone number.

When you call, you get a series of prompts that ask you to input your bank account numbers.

No. 5: Called ID Spoofing.

Some companies now make devices that can trick caller ID, making it seem like the call is coming from some other number.

The technology itself is legal, but there are reports that bad guys are now using it as yet another tool to steal people's identities.

In one case, crooks made it look like they were calling from the local courthouse, then accused people of skipping jury duty and demanded their Social Security numbers.

Congress is now considering legislation to make caller ID spoofing illegal.

Tips for fending off "vishing" and "spoofing:"

Never give out your financial information unless you initiated the contact.

If you receive an e-mail or phone call asking for your details, ignore it.

Instead, look up the number or Web site for the business yourself and find out whether the request is legit.