By Tonya Sams

With so many ways for consumers to spend their money, it is easy to become a victim of scams. Eric Zell, a supervising attorney in the Economic Justice group at The Legal Aid of Society of Cleveland, offers a few tips to keep your money safe.

One way to avoid being swindled is to conduct research to find out if the person or company you want to do business with is legitimate. This includes understanding the products and services being offered and researching to look for any consumer complaints. Consumers should ask around to find out if others are familiar with the reputation of the people or company that they are planning to do business with.

It is also important for consumers to understand how contracts work. “Read the contract and make sure that you understand what you’re agreeing to,” Zell said. He suggests that if it is hard to understand, find someone who can help you understand the language. “Any person or company that you are interacting with who is offering you a contract should allow you some time to review it,” he said. “It is not a good sign if someone is pressuring you to sign a contract immediately. You should have an opportunity to understand what’s in it and review it, making sure that you understand what you will have to do going forward.” After signing a contract, always keep a copy for your records. This includes keeping copies of documents that are exchanged after the contract has been signed, like payments and receipts. This will be helpful if you have any problems later and need to provide documentation.

This tip also applies when purchasing a vehicle. “Car dealers may try to hide information from you. They will not necessarily tell you everything upfront, so you need to review the paperwork thoroughly to understand what your monthly obligations are going to be,” Zell said. “You need to understand whether there are additional fees or services added.”

Zell said that it is also important not to be fooled by low-cost or free offers. Always read the fine print so you know what you’re agreeing to. If it sounds too good to be true, then it probably is. “People can be scammed when they think they are signing up for a free offer, but their credit information is still collected,” Zell said. “Then down the road, they are charged for other services or fees.”

Keeping your personal information safe is also important. If a company is contacting you, make sure they are who they claim to be. Zell said that financial institutions or government entities like the social security administration or IRS will never reach out to people by phone or email unexpectedly. If you have doubts, hang up the phone and call the number that you know is correct to reach them directly.

Legal Aid offers online resources on consumer issues, bankruptcy, and other money-related issues. Visit, click on the “Services & Resources” tab, click “Legal Resources,” and then select “Money.”

Do you have questions regarding money-related issues? Legal Aid may be able to help! Call Legal Aid at 888-817-3777 during normal business hours or apply online 24/7 at

Tonya Sams is the Development and Communications Assistant for The Legal Aid Society of Cleveland.