SCAMMED! What We All Can Learn from These Real-Life Victims

Bottom Line/Personal interview on scam victims with Dr. Audri Lanford: Internet ScamBusters #177

Today we have a very special treat for you.

Audri was recently interviewed by Bottom Line/Personal, and the article that resulted became the cover story for their May 1, 2006, issue. It’s called: “SCAMMED! What We All Can Learn from These Real-Life Victims.”

Bottom Line/Personal is an excellent fee-based newsletter that interviews experts on different topics and presents the latest info to their subscribers (we’ve subscribed for years).

We asked for and received their permission to share this excellent article with you. Enjoy!

On to today’s Bottom Line Personal article…

SCAMMED! What We All Can Learn from These Real-Life Victims

(Note: we split some of the paragraphs to make this article easier to read. The content, however, has not been changed at all.)

Con artists are experts at talking people out of their money. In one study conducted by AARP, 26% of those surveyed had been the victim of a scam. Here are the stories of five people targeted by con artists and the lessons we can learn from them…


Carrie, an executive and frequent business traveler, was awakened in her hotel room one night by a call from the front desk. The clerk apologized for the hour and said that the day shift had gone home without completing her registration and he needed to confirm some information. Could he have the last four digits of her credit card number?

Carrie, groggy from sleep, provided the numbers, and the clerk became perplexed. “Those aren’t the numbers I have here,” he said. “You had better give me the whole card number so I can reenter it.” He apologized once more for the inconvenience.

Only Carrie didn’t give him the number — by this time, she correctly suspected that she wasn’t speaking to the front desk at all. Carrie told the “clerk” that she would deal with the problem in the morning and then hung up.

Lesson: Always be wary about giving out your credit card number. Also, con men like to throw you off-balance. Waking you in the middle of the night is one such tactic. Other common tactics include saying that a family member is in the hospital or that you have just won a big prize.


When Dana’s purebred bulldog gave birth to puppies, she put them up for sale on the Internet for $2,000 each. A check arrived from a buyer for $2,200 — $200 too much. Dana contacted the buyer, who said that the extra was to cover shipping.

The buyer had made arrangements with an animal-transport company and asked Dana to send the company a check for $200.

Dana complied, and the puppy was picked up. Only later did her bank tell her that the buyer’s $2,200 check had bounced. By then, it was too late to get back the puppy and stop payment on her check, which had gone to a scam artist.

Lesson: It can take weeks for your bank to determine that a check is bad — sometimes more than a month, in the case of foreign or cashier’s checks. Even if your bank has made the funds available to you, that’s no guarantee that the check has cleared and the funds won’t be recalled.

If you must accept a large check, call your bank and ask when it will know for sure that the check is good.

Scam variation: An American is “hired” by a foreign company looking for local representatives to process payments. When the company’s “customers” send payments, the American deposits the checks in his/her own account, then writes a check for 90% of the total amount to the foreign company’s headquarters and pockets the difference.

By the time the American discovers that the checks he received have bounced, he already has sent several checks, which have been cashed. One man lost $8,400 this way.


Sarah, a woman with strong religious beliefs, was contacted via E-mail by a person who said that she was an elderly widow living overseas. The widow was looking for someone to help her use her late husband’s money to spread the word of God. She said she was dying of cancer and had no children or other family.

The two women traded E-mails about religion and the Bible, and eventually Sarah agreed to help. A short time later, the plan hit a snag — there were unexpected taxes and fees involved in transferring the widow’s money, and with most of her funds tied up by this snafu, the widow couldn’t afford to pay the charges.

Sarah agreed to send a check for several hundred dollars. A week later, the widow reported another snag and more fees. Sarah grew suspicious and ended the relationship.

Lesson: Sarah responded to the E-mail because of her desire to help others. It could have been much worse — many people who fall for this scam lose thousands of dollars, not just a few hundred. Sarah got off cheap, in part because she was willing to admit to herself that she had been had.

Many victims send numerous checks for ever-larger amounts before they concede that something is wrong. It’s easier to write another check than admit to themselves that they have been fooled.


Andy received an E-mail from what seemed like the Internet transaction company PayPal. The E-mail said that the company’s security programs had registered attempts to log into his account from an overseas address. Had he tried to use PayPal while traveling internationally? If not, he should click the link in the E-mail to report fraud.

Andy hadn’t left the country, so he clicked the link. In truth, no one had tried to log into his account — yet.

The E-mail warning of the fraud came from a scammer, not from PayPal, and the link directed Andy to a sham site that only appeared to be a PayPal site. He was prompted to provide his account number and password when reporting the fraud, and the scammer used this information to steal the $450 that was in his real PayPal account.

Lesson: Links in E-mail messages can’t be trusted.

[ScamBusters Editors note: That’s one of the reasons we send ScamBusters out in text format — it solves this problem: the link you see is the link you get.]

Andy could have made sure he was dealing with the real PayPal by typing into his Web browser and accessing his account independently. This scam also shows how clever con artists can be in throwing us off guard — the scammer panicked Andy by telling him that he was being scammed.


Thelma, a single mother, received a call from the county clerk. She had failed to report for jury duty, so a warrant had been issued for her arrest.

Thelma argued that she had never received a jury duty notice, but the clerk was skeptical. Finally, he consented to check out her story. What was Thelma’s Social Security number so he could make sure he had the right person? Thelma wisely refused to provide it.

Lesson: The phrase “Social Security number” should always put you on high alert — even if you’ve been thrown off-balance by a con man’s tale of a warrant issued for your arrest. To verify whether a caller is legitimate, hang up, look up the phone number of the office or organization that seems to be calling and call that number.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Audri Lanford, PhD, cofounder and coeditor of, a Web site devoted to informing the public about scams and cons, based in Boone, North Carolina. For a free subscription to the ScamBusters E-letter, go to

Reprinted with the permission of:

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That’s all for today — see you next week.