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TRAGEDY BRINGS OUT SCAMSTERS

Phony fund-raising schemes are seeking to profit from Americans' desire to donate money to help victims of last week's terrorist attacks, the U.S. Department of Justice said.

Many people are receiving e-mails asking them to submit personal or financial information, such as credit card numbers, to Web sites that don't belong to legitimate charities, the Justice Department said.

Also, telemarketers are running phony sweepstakes or magazine subscription schemes falsely promising that part of the money will go to disaster recovery efforts, the government said.

The Department of Justice has set up its own site at www.usdoj.gov/criminal/fraud/WTCPent-SpecRLine is overdrawn pt.hem with information on how to report phony schemes as well as information on recognized government and charitable organizations.

Bloomberg News

Cutting creditors some slack

Banks, credit card companies and even Uncle Sam will give a break to consumers who can't pay their bills on time because of the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

But only if you ask.

Following the lead of the federal and state governments, which have granted extensions on filing and paying taxes, many companies are providing extra time to pay bills and waiving late payment fees.

Major national banks and financial institutions, including American Express, Discover, and Bank One, and MBNA are taking a similar view.

As part of tighter security measures, mail has been temporarily banned from U.S. passenger flights. That means mail delays, which could prevent your payment from arriving on time.

Your creditors, however, are likely to forgo late charges if you mailed your bills in a timely fashion.

However, consumers may see a late charge on their next bill because the issuers couldn't make adjustments fast enough. If that happens to you, creditors say you should call -- they will work with individuals to clear up the matter.

If you're concerned about time-sensitive documents you've mailed to the IRS, call them at (800) 829-1040. (Expect to wait. This line is always busy.)

Knight Ridder

Avoiding stock scams

Rosalind Tyson, acting director of the Security and Exchange Commission's Southern California office, has these tips for investors on how to avoid stock fraud:

Consult with a broker or adviser before making any investment.

Check the background of a broker or financial adviser before you invest. A good place to check out brokers is at www.nasdr.com. This fall, the SEC will offer a similar screening tool for financial advisers on its Web site.

Make sure your broker knows your risk tolerance, tax status, investing time frame and retirement needs before you invest.

Know how your adviser or broker is being compensated. "The market professionals are entitled to their compensation," Tyson says. "But investors are entitled to ask what it is."

Realize that investments are for the long term. "The mentality of the late 1990s, where some segments of the market got into the psychology that you could make money overnight, is not the environment we're in now," Tyson says.

That old environment "made what the fraudsters were saying sound almost reasonable. It was harder to distinguish risky legitimate stocks from scams."

Finally, if you have a complaint, put it in writing in a letter and mail it.

"A contemporaneous record in a letter is the very best kind of evidence for you," Tyson says, "and your case is more likely to be resolved."

Orange County Register

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