Scamlines 3: This week's scams to watch out for in your neighborhood

10 new scams from around the world

From Australia, via Africa, to Alabama , the scammers are at work trying to grab your money — or your identity. They know no boundaries, and their scams are often identical or similar wherever you are in the world.

In our search through the scam headlines this week, we found scammers trying the same type of trick in Australia and the US. We have 10 new hoaxes to alert you to, including three that earned top slots in the “Pie in the Sky” awards!

This week’s Scamlines proves the point we always make that scams can happen almost anywhere in the world. What happens in one town today could land at your door, or zip down your phone/Internet line, tomorrow.

We’ve uncovered 10 new scams this week — including two variations on a driveway repaving scam, a clever piece of trickery that gives a whole new meaning to the words “money laundering,” and a rogue’s gallery of award-winners in Australia.


1. Driveway drive-aways

The scam: They turn up in Opelika, AL, and Bulli, New South Wales, Australia this week — scammers offering to resurface driveways. In the Australian case, a resident parts with $15,000 for a shoddy job not worth 10% of that amount. The contractors disappear before he can protest.

In Alabama, the quote is only $270 to dump and spread crushed stone on the driveway; the resident spots a city road crew nearby and guesses the offer is legit. He pays the money and that’s the last he sees of his money or the guy who showed up at his front door.

The solution: Don’t accept unsolicited bids at your front door, no matter how tempting the offer or urgent your need. If you want to get work done, invite bids from several, reputable contractors.

2. Power play

The scam: Boise, ID, residents receive phone calls supposedly from the local power company. Victims are told they owe money and warned their power supply will be cut unless they pay immediately. The caller asks for credit card or bank details and, sometimes, even the victim’s social security number.

The solution: Power companies must send written notification before disconnecting you. Ask for the caller’s phone number and say you’ll call back. If they won’t give it, hang up. Either way, look up the power company’s number in the phone book and call that number to check.

3. It’s a dog-gone scam

The scam: A dog-loving couple in Port Orchard, WA, respond to an ad from a “missionary couple” in Nigeria, seeking a “good Christian home” for their English bulldog. The pair sent a money order for $350 before having second thoughts and wondering how the animal could be shipped. The M.O. is cashed before they can put a stop on it.

The solution: Sad to say, pretty much any pay-first money request that comes out of Nigeria is probably a scam. Never buy from anyone overseas without firm evidence of their credentials.

You can find out more about puppy scams here.

4. Adding to distress

The scam: A crafty scammer reads the obituary notices in Indiana newspapers and phones the bereaved families, claiming to be from the state Department of Health. He asks for personal information about the deceased, like birth date, home address and Social Security number “to complete the death certificate.” In reality, it’s an identity theft scam.

The solution: Personal details on a death certificate are usually entered by the funeral director not the Health Department. Never give personal information about yourself or anyone else to an incoming caller. Say you’ll call back; then check the number in the phone book.

5. Cleaned-up and cleaned out

The scam: A man claims he’s smuggled $500,000 out of Brazil (currency export is restricted there) by blackening the notes. He shows his victim, a woman he met on the Internet and flew out to see in Thailand, how a couple of his notes are easily cleaned with a chemical solution. She lends him $18,500 to buy more chemicals to clean the remaining notes. Of course, she never sees him again.

The solution: What can we say? There’s a simple rule: never lend money to someone you met on the Internet — unless you’re married to them! The liquid the scammer used for his demo, by the way, was water.

6. Put the brakes on this scammer

The scam: A man approaches elderly women in Mansfield, OH, parking lots, warning that he’s spotted brake fluid leaking from their vehicles. He just happens to be an auto engineer and appears to tinker around with the car, soon pronouncing it “fixed”. Then he announces he charges for his services.

The solution: Beware of ‘Good Samaritans’. Never pay them. Always get car problems — real or imagined, and especially if they are safety-related — checked by a legitimate auto workshop.

7. Spoofers are back

The scam: Using an Internet service, scammers fool the caller identity feature on your phone, presenting a false ID. It may appear to be your bank calling. In a new outbreak in Kentucky and Indiana, it just presents a random number so you can’t trace the real caller, who tries to talk you into giving out personal financial details.

The solution: This trick is called “spoofing” and we wrote about how Caller ID numbers can be spoofed in issue #250. Unfortunately, you can’t trust caller ID these days. As we said earlier, never give these details to incoming callers.

8. to 10. “Pie in the Sky” awards

The scams: The Australian Securities and Investments Commission has just announced the winners of its annual “Pie in the Sky” awards aimed at highlighting the most outrageous money scams each year.

The “winner” was one of those inheritance letters where victims were told they shared the same name as someone who died in the tsunami that hit Thailand in 2004. A claim against the estate of the deceased could be made for a fee.

Runner-up was a racket that lured investors with promises of 20% returns from the (non-existent) “best performing superannuation fund in Australia”. And third place went to a scam that sought an “investment” of $40,000 to develop a device to capture and recycle electricity.

Sometimes, it’s easy to see how victims fall for certain scams. Other times you can’t believe it. But you can count on to help keep you worldly-wise — wherever you are.