Beware the Scammer!

They're b-a-a-c-k.

The scam artists are out again in force — those unscrupulous con men (and women), crooks and assorted lowlifes who are trying all sorts of phony stock deals, common frauds and other tricks to separate you from your money.

Watch out for tough-selling types who cold-call you at home or knock on your door during dinner and try to whet your appetite for raw investments. Beware also of those who dangle fly-by-night schemes that they vow can't miss.

If an unknown salesperson calls and pitches a stock to you, you're smart to hang up. You've got better things to chew on. At a minimum, ask him or her to call back tomorrow and outline his or her plan to your banker, financial planner or investment adviser. (You'll probably never get the second call.)

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Be especially cautious of someone who refuses to provide references from present customers or a warranty for a real product (not just a dream) that he or she is selling. Be suspicious of any seller who says you have to make up your mind and send in your money very fast. Ask for at least 48 hours to contemplate any purchase or investment.

The victims of scamsters are not all ignorant suckers. A study for AARP found that people who lose money in scams — from hollow investments to phony job opportunities, fake prizes and home-repair cons — tend to be more affluent and better educated than the average American.

Anyone can be an innocent victim, but scamsters particularly love to prey on the elderly. People over 65 make up about 13% of the U.S. population and 30% of the victims of telemarketing fraud. Perhaps that's because, as the AARP study found, compared with the population as a whole, older people tend to be quicker to believe promises and slower to take steps to protect their legal rights.

If you think you may be the victim of a fraud, contact your state's consumer protection agency or attorney general's office. You may also find information about common frauds and report trouble on the consumer section of the FTC's Web site.