Beware of scams to separate you from your money

The old saying about "a fool and his money" is still as true as ever.

Are you ready to hand over your credit card to a "census worker"? Or wire $500 to Canada to someone who claims to be your grandson? Would you take a trip to Tiffany & Co. with a new "best friend," the one who says she's an heiress?

April Fools' Day may be behind us, but scammers work year-round to fool you -- and cost you a bundle.

Beware of census scammers

By now, you're supposed to have mailed back your 10-question census form. If it's not returned, a census worker could show up at your home.

But consumer watchdogs are warning of scammers posing as census employees.

This could start with an e-mail, too.

"If you get an e-mail from the Census Bureau that says we want information, that's not us," said Kim Hunter, media specialist for the Census Bureau's Detroit region.

Nor will census workers call or ask you to complete a form online or ask you for your Social Security number or other financial information. Even if you have caller ID, you should realize that con artists can "spoof" their number to make it look official.

Yes, some census workers will be going door-to-door at some point. Hunter said they will have a badge that does not have a picture. But you can ask to see a driver's license.

A census worker should not enter your home or ask for money. If you are wary, don't feel silly about being cautious.

Sorry, wrong number

Scammers have figured out a way to rip you off by shifting one digit in a phone number.

Shortly after Toyota launched its free recall-information help line -- 800-331-4331 -- crafty scammers obtained a very similar number, according to the Better Business Bureau of Eastern Michigan.

Some consumers who dialed the wrong number were asked for their Social Security numbers.

Others heard a recording that told them to call another 800 number. Then nearly $6 was added to their phone bill.

Psychic hot lines and horoscopes use the same trick when they ask you to press a certain digit that routes your call to a high-priced 900-number.

Read all your phone bills -- and dispute the charges.

The heiress heist

As much as I'd like to imagine that someone is willing to hand me $12.5 million, even I know that an exotic e-mail from someone named "Toure Celine" must be deleted.

One Monday morning, this so-called heiress said she needed my help with her dough.

Who wouldn't be thrilled to devote a Monday to spending someone's millions?

Ah, but once the scam artists get your account information -- they'll say they need it to deposit the funds -- they'll use that data to rip you off. They also may try to get you to wire money. Don't.

Family fraud

If someone claiming to be a relative calls and begs for money to get out of trouble, be extra careful. Make sure you know who's really on the line.

Scammers are known to check obituaries and pick up names of grandkids to get money from senior citizens, according to a March report in the AARP Bulletin.

A caller might say: "Grandma, this is Susie and I've been arrested in Toronto. But I don't want Dad to know. Can you wire me $3,000?"

Victims are being fooled because sometimes Susie says she has a cold or maybe mentions other family names or details.

Internet postings for funerals can also contain what might seem like innocent but fairly private information -- stuff that a savvy scammer could use over the phone.

Tell Susie to call Dad.

Don't be a fool with your money -- on April 1 or any day of the year.