SCAMMED! Don’t Let What Happened To These Victims Happen To You

Bottom Line/Personal updated interview on scam victims with Dr. Audri Lanford: Internet ScamBusters #241

Today we have another very special treat for you.

Quick background: About a year ago, Audri was interviewed by Bottom Line/Personal, and the article that resulted became the cover story for their May 1, 2006, issue — and one of their most popular stories of the year. It’s called: “SCAMMED! What We All Can Learn from These Real-Life Victims.”

We reprinted this article for you in ScamBusters Issue #177.

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).

Since this article was so popular, Bottom Line asked to do an update article, which became the cover story for their July 15, 2007, issue.

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

Now, here we go…

SCAMMED! Don’t Let What Happened To These Victims Happen To You

(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 constantly coming up with creative new ways to scam unsuspecting people out of their money. Last year, Bottom Line/Personal ran the stories of real-life victims of scams (May 1, 2006). Since then, new scams and sophisticated twists on old scams have claimed new victims.

Here are more true stories of scam victims and the lessons we can learn from them…

Gift Card Fraud

Lisa, a senior citizen in the Midwest, purchased Wal-Mart gift cards for her eight grandchildren last Christmas. When her grandkids tried to use them, they were told that the cards had little or no balance remaining.

Lisa returned to the store and demanded that the mistake be corrected, but she was told there was no mistake — the money on the gift cards had already been spent. Only after an hour of arguing with Wal-Mart managers was her money refunded.

Lisa learned later that in the weeks before the holidays, criminals snuck handheld gadgets known as “skimmers” into stores and used them to scan the unique ID codes from gift cards’ magnetic strips.

The thieves then called the gift card toll-free number to find out which cards had been purchased — and thus activated. They also could have checked the balances of the cards and then used the stolen codes to shop online.

They even could have purchased other gift cards for $5 each and then used simple technology to reprogram them with the stolen unique ID numbers and spent the balances.

Lesson: In any store, don’t buy the gift cards displayed on store racks. Ask at the customer service desk whether there are any cards kept behind the counter, out of customers’ — and criminals’ — reach.

Make sure any packaging has not been tampered with. Keep your receipt, and tell the recipients of your gift cards that they should let you know if there’s a problem using the cards.

Latest Lottery Scam

Roger, an educated man in his 40s, knew all about the “lottery scam,” an old con in which victims are told that they’ve won a foreign lottery, but to receive their money, they first must pay taxes or fees. (Victims who pay these fees find that their “winnings” never arrive.)

So Roger was skeptical when he received an email telling him that he had won the equivalent of thousands of dollars in the British lottery.

He also was intrigued. This wasn’t the usual sloppily written spam email. It seemed very professional and included the names and phone numbers of lottery representatives he could contact.

When Roger called, he was assured that this was not a scam. The lottery representative promised Roger that he would not have to pay any taxes or fees out of his own pocket. Instead, Roger could pay the fees and taxes out of the first installment of his winnings after he received them.

A British cashier’s check for $7,600 soon arrived in Roger’s mail. Roger deposited the check in his bank account… waited a week for his bank to make the funds available… then mailed a check for $5,500 to cover taxes and fees, as directed.

Roger was sure it couldn’t be a scam of any kind — after all, he was $2,100 ahead, even if the rest of the money never arrived.

But the check never cleared, and several weeks later, Roger’s bank informed him that the $7,600 cashier’s check had bounced. Now he was out $5,500 of his own money.

Lesson: Be suspicious whenever you’re asked for money, even if you have already been paid a larger amount in the form of a check.

It can take many weeks for a bank to determine whether a foreign or cashier’s check is valid. The check could bounce even after your bank has made the funds available to you, leaving you on the hook to return the entire amount to the bank.

Winning a lottery you did not enter is always too good to be true, even if the con artist does spin a plausible tale about how you came to win and his/her country’s unique lottery rules.

Also, according to the Federal Trade Commission, it is illegal for US citizens to play in a foreign lottery.

Online Dating Scams

Chad, a single man in his mid 50s, started an online relationship with a woman in her 20s named Eileen through a popular dating website. Chad and Eileen emailed back and forth over a period of many months and exchanged photos via email.

Chad was flattered that this attractive, younger woman was interested in him. When Eileen needed $1,500 for a plane ticket to visit a dying relative, Chad was more than happy to comply.

Eileen’s hard-luck stories and cash requests continued. Eventually, Chad gave Eileen money for a plane ticket so she could visit him. She claimed to live hundreds of miles away. That was the last he heard from her. He had been scammed out of more than $4,000.

Lesson: A con artist might spend months building rapport online before asking for a dime. Even if you think you know this person well, consider that you really don’t know anyone from your communications over the Internet — you just know the way he/she chooses to present himself in email.

Hit Man Scam

Steve, a financially successful Massachusetts man in his 30s, received an email that sent him into a panic. The writer claimed to be a hit man hired to kill Steve. The hit man offered to call off the job if Steve gave him $75,000 — $15,000 more than he said he had been paid for the hit.

This hit man seemed to have done some research on Steve. He knew Steve worked in the financial services industry and that he could afford the $75,000 price.

Steve was given a phone number to call… four days to raise the money… and a warning not to contact the police.

But Steve did go to the police, who had seen similar emails and explained to him that this was only a scam and that his life was not in danger.

The con artist had probably found Steve’s email address in a work-related database, which told him Steve’s profession. The lucrative nature of that profession suggested that Steve could afford the $75,000 price.

Lesson: Con men know that making victims fear for their lives is a great way to encourage them to hand over their money. Good con artists learn a few details about their intended victims to make their threats more credible. When you’re told not to go to the authorities, that’s when you should be sure to go to the police.

Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Audri Lanford, PhD, codirector of, a website based in Boone, North Carolina, that reports on scams and cons.

Reprinted with the permission of:
Bottom Line/Personal
Boardroom, Inc.
281 Tresser Blvd, 8th Floor
Stamford, CT 06901

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!