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You can get by on charm for about fifteen minutes. After that, you'd better have a big weenie or huge boobs.

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The telephone is the weapon of choice for criminals who talk gullible Americans out of $40 billion of year. "A telephone is like an assault weapon in the hands of a con artist," says Hubert H.Humphrey III, attorney general of Minnesota and president of the National Association of Attorneys General.

Here are some tips for self-defense offered by the federally sponsored Telemarketing Fraud Working Group and AARP's criminal justice services:

Beware of anyone who calls and asks you to send money or buy anything sight unseen over the telephone unless you are certain you are dealing with a reputable firm.

Never give out your credit card number or information about your bank account to anyone you don't know.

Don't pay anything for a "free prize." If the caller tells you the payment is for taxes on your prize, he has just committed a major crime. Hang up.

Refuse to be rushed into anything. The more a caller tries to hurry you into buying or sending money, the more likely he is to be a crook. If he offers to send a messenger to your home to pick up your payment, hang up.

If you have any doubts, check it out. You may reach the National Fraud Information Center at 1 (800) 876-7060. Or contact your Better Business Bureau, state attorney general's office, the Postal Inspection Service or a local consumer protection agency. (Reprinted from the March 1994 AARP Bulletin.)

For more information, write or call the American Association of Retired Persons at 601 E. Street, N.W., Washington, D.C. 20049, 800- 424-3410.

Copyright 1994 by the American Association of Retired Persons.

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