By Sharon Hassler—These days we can’t afford to pay for things we don’t need or lose any of our hard-earned money through scams. That’s why it’s especially troubling that the number of scams and fraud have doubled or tripled over the past few years. The “work-from-home” offers are particularly disgusting since they prey on those who need to earn extra money. Here are some items to red-flag when you receive them via email, snail mail or phone.

Past-due notices to renew a notary directory membership: A notary directory owner whom I won’t name gave away free memberships a year ago. Now he’s sending out “Past Due” email notices which include a threat to send the account to collections after 60 days. Gee, why didn’t we think of scare tactics? Don’t be frightened into paying this guy; simply send an email and tell him to cancel your account.

Lifetime directory memberships: I just love this one. It isn’t like we haven’t seen these “lifetime” memberships revoked in the past. One offer is being sent by the same guy who sent out a bogus claim that only the NNA site got more traffic than his little-known directory. Eh, right… Another offer explains that “lifetime membership” means as long as you want to keep your account OR UNTIL THE COMPANY CLOSES! What?! That could be next week! Visit our Notary Directories page and check out the top paid directories and the free ones before you spend more of your hard-earned money.

Unsolicited offers for escrow work or any other work-at-home offer: If you haven’t signed up with an employment site, beware these offers. Here’s what may happen: You click on the link in the email, go to that site and complete the online application. Then they ask them to provide your bank or paypal account with login so they can wire money directly to that account… NO! NO! NO! THIS ALLOWS THEM TO TAKE MONEY DIRECTLY OUT! A lot of these offers come from overseas scammers and once they get your account info, you’re in for serious trouble trying to get your money back. If you don’t know this company, check it out before opening the door to your financial accounts.

Work from home typing small ads: You’ll pay a reasonable fee to get started and then find out you’re supposed to write Google ads. But you won’t be creating ads for a company; you’re supposed to write ads for a product you find and try to sell yourself. So first, you need a product that will be easy to sell online and provide a good profit. (Let me know if you find one!) Then you must have your own web page or website for this product because Google has cracked down on ads that are redirected to a site you don’t own. While using Google ads to sell a product is legitimate, this is not what’s described in the come-on that sucks you in. This ain’t no typing job!

The “Good News!” emails: You know the ones with thrilling news, usually from a country in Africa, claiming You’ve Won or You’ve Inherited or They’re Ready to Transfer Money! This con may be set up as though you’ve been mistaken for the rightful winner, heir, etc., which if you just play along and don’t point out their mistake, you’ll get rich. Reminds me of the old classic movie, “The Flim Flam Man,” where actor George C. Scott justifies cheating people out of their money because his victims are knowingly trying to cheat someone else as part of the deal. If his victims were honest, they wouldn’t throw in with him. Everything about these offers stinks.

Notice of a new charge or a dispute on your PayPal account. NEVER log in through a link in an email for paypal, a bank, credit card, etc. NEVER give out your PIN or login online. Always make a “fresh” visit to the site by opening a new browser window and typing in the website domain name or using one of your bookmarks/favorites. Otherwise you may be logging into a site that looks EXACTLY like the legitimate site but isn’t. They’ll get your username, password, credit card and/or bank info and steal you blind. When you get an email from “paypal,” do check your account for activity you haven’t authorized. There may be a fraudulent charge on your account—which has happened to me—so do review your account but don’t go there through the link in the email. Protect your assets: Set up a free checking account to use with PayPal. Take money out as soon it’s deposited there and transfer money into that account only when you need to make a purchase. That way thieves won’t have a direct pipeline through PayPal to your primary checking account. My bank put a stop payment order on all PayPal charges for my primary account for free because there had been fraud, and they set up a free checking account over the phone, too. If you’re a PayPal user, I suggest you do this today while you’re thinking about it.

Credit card fraud. I didn’t think it could happen to me but it has. I still don’t know how this card number was stolen because it was an account I hadn’t used for years. The charge was small, only $9.97, but was made several months in a row. Since I’ve gone paperless, I don’t get statements, not paying attention and wasn’t aware of this charge. I didn’t check this old account online each month (big mistake!) because it had been idle and the result: As the charge was less than $50, it was too small for the credit card company to call me, not worth their time, but they took the time to report my non-payment to the credit card bureaus. My FICO score got temporarily trashed. So I had to go through the fraudulent-charge process and wait for my good credit to be restored.

So what are my options to prevent this in the future? (1) Close accounts I don’t use. Nope. I won’t close open accounts because old accounts with no balances and a perfect credit history boost your FICO score substantially. They’re too valuable to close! Instead, I’m getting a new number for this problem account. (2) Pay for credit card protection. In this economy, I don’t want to shell out more money if I can avoid it, and the FTC recommends against these services. By law, I’m only liable for up to $50 per account if I lose a card and zero liability if the card is still in my possession. Of course, if someone steals my identity and opens new accounts, it can be a mess to clean up so a service would be beneficial in that scenario. What to do if this happens to you: File a “fraud alert” by phone with one credit bureau who will notify the other two. This means any business trying to approve credit for you in the next 90 days, must contact you first and verify your identity. You can also request a security freeze for free or a small fee with all three credit bureaus to prevent anyone from opening new accounts. Here are links to information about freezing your account at each bureau: Equifax, Transunion and Experian. Considering the cost of identity theft protection, fees for security freezes seems like a bargain. If you’re a victim of actual identity theft (not fraud like my case) or a senior citizen, there’s no charge for a freeze or removal but that’s not the way your want to get a free service.

Check your credit as it’s being restored: You can get a free credit report from each bureau once a year (without the FICO score). If you’ve been a victim of fraud, you’re entitle to an additional credit report for free. I’d suggest, after your credit reports have corrected, you order a free-for-30-days credit card report with all three FICO scores to make sure those important scores have been corrected, too. Scores vary by bureau so you need to check all three. Visit this page to learn more about FICO scores.

To summarize: Whatever offers, renewals, winnings or collection notices you receive via email, snail mail or phone, don’t react without doing your homework. Guard your information carefully. When your finances are involved, don’t click on links in emails. When anyone calls you and asks for info over the phone, ask them for a phone number so you can call them back. Then check your records or go online to see if that phone number is affiliated with your account. Do open everything you receive from your credit card companies, even those old idle accounts. Be cautious! Stay safe!