National Consumer Protection Week: Education beats fraud

John North, Dayton Better Business Bureau president. CONTRIBUTED

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John North, Dayton Better Business Bureau president. CONTRIBUTED

Every day, people make financial decisions, whether it’s getting mortgage or auto loans, choosing and understanding credit cards or deciding how to pay for purchases. With so many decisions to make, it can be difficult to know if you’re making the right ones. And, scammers only make choices harder.

The first line of defense to manage your money wisely and protect yourself against fraud is education.

National Consumer Protection Week (NCPW) begins Sunday, March 5, highlighting consumer protection and education efforts around the country. Financially savvy consumers are likely to make smarter decisions about managing money, using credit wisely and building solid financial foundation futures.

Better Business Bureau offers some tips to help manage your money and protect you from fraud.

• It’s important to develop a budget and stick to it. You may need to reduce expenses or increase your income to have a balanced budget. Also, pay bills when they come to avoid expensive fees or penalties.

• You should thoroughly understand credit card offers and terms before applying. Read the fine print to uncover the truth behind interest rates and promotional offers.

• Pay credit card balances in full each month to avoid interest fees. If you can’t pay them off, pay off high interest rate credit cards first. But, don’t miss payments on other cards with balances. Send more than the minimum payment, if possible, and avoid maxing out credit cards as it can hurt your credit rating.

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• Review credit card statements monthly and credit reports annually for discrepancies. And, check your credit score as companies use it to determine how likely you are to repay debts.

• Never give out personal information to unfamiliar people or companies, in pop-up screens or unsecured websites. Verify the legitimacy of requests with organizations directly.

• Get everything in writing, including contracts, warranties/guarantees, oral promises, terms and costs. Carefully review and understand contracts before signing.

• Beware of unsolicited notifications accompanied with checks claiming you’ve won money, been awarded grants or offering secret shopping jobs. The checks are usually counterfeit. Steer clear of work-at-home offers claiming big profits and no experience necessary. Avoid high-pressure or scare tactics to get you to buy something, make donations or invest immediately. Reputable organizations will give you time to make decisions.

Take advantage of the resources available at the NCPW website, www.consumer.gov/ncpw, to help you make smart choices in the marketplace. And, as always, contact BBB before doing business and check companies out by visiting www.bbb.org or calling (937) 222-5825 or (800) 776-5301.

John North is president of the Dayton Better Business Bureau.

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