Once a year we feel taken by the IRS. Last year, however, the IRS issued a consumer alert to prevent us from feeling taken by surprise. The alert warned about an e-mail scam offering $80 for participating in a customer satisfaction survey. Among other things, the survey asked for social security number, bank name and credit card information – information helpful in withdrawing funds, making credit card charges and getting loans. I may be blond, but I think I’d be suspicious if the IRS cared about my satisfaction. I know I’d be suspicious if the IRS wanted to give me $80 – unless the R in IRS suddenly stood for reciprocity.

And then there’s the FDA. It recently gave approval to Reliant Pharmaceutical to sell Lovaza as a prescription. Lovaza is fish oil. Lovaza fish oil costs two hundred dollars for a one-month supply. A one-month supply of fish oil from a health food store costs less than twenty dollars. I thought the FDA gave companies license to sell – not license to steal.

“Swoop and Squat” is stealing on a smaller scale. Swoop and Squat is a car accident scam. One car swoops in front of another car which squats in front of your car, causing you to hit it. Then all the people in the car you hit file bogus injury claims with your insurance company. Scams like this cost the insurance industry $20,000,000,000 a year, which gets passed on as higher insurance rates. When insurance companies are in the driver’s seat, what they pass safely is the buck.

When it comes to bucks, I don’t know anyone who thinks they got the best deal they could when buying a car. In addition to teaching us how to drive a car, I think driving instructors should teach us how to drive a bargain.

Because I’ve been taken by more than one supposed bargain, I’m not tempted to reply to an e-mail from a dying Nigerian trying to get his money out of the country. I’m not tempted to send money to Canada to pay taxes on a winning lottery ticket I never bought. In fact, I’m not tempted by free offers because free isn’t free of problems. Accepting a free offer after completing a credit card transaction can cost you an unintentional enrollment in a discount club or a year’s subscription to an unwanted magazine. Not knowing better can cost us.