China and Myanmar cons among 8 new scams this week
It had to happen (and frankly, we're surprised the scams didn't start even more quickly). With the plight of earthquake and cyclone victims in China and Myanmar hitting he headlines -- and our hearts -- every day, it didn't take aid scammers long to put together phony relief campaigns and solicit donations. More on this below.
Another fund-raising scam this week preys on trusting clergymen in Israel, while we've turned up two more of those phony ad scams, where businesses pay to promote themselves in non-existent publications.
Watch out for these and the other cheap tricks in this week's round-up of 8 new scams in the headlines. Remember, they could turn up in your town next.
1. Cashing in on public sympathy
The scam: The FBI and other security authorities issue multiple warnings about scammers' attempts to cash in on public sympathy for victims of Myanmar's devastating cyclone and the tragic earthquake in China.
The phony donation pleas arrive by email but police also report telephone solicitations, often claiming to be from genuine organizations like the Red Cross.
Some of the scammers even offer free vacations to the biggest donors. "Whenever there's some tragic event, these scam artists come out to do their business." says the FBI. "It may not be apparent to unwitting victims. It may be the last thing on their minds that they are getting duped."
The solution: Don't respond to emails about relief efforts; be skeptical of anyone soliciting donations even if they claim to be from a known relief agency; go directly to the websites of relief agencies -- never click on links in emails; don't give money to people who say they're going to pass it on; and don't give your personal financial details to anyone who solicits contributions.
2. Scammers tune in to Apple music
The scam: Users of Apple's iTunes music service get a genuine-looking message saying they must correct a problem with their account. A link takes them to a spoof update page that asks for the user's Social Security number, credit card details, security code, and mother's maiden name.
This is a blatant phishing attempt but the first one we know of to hit iTunes, whose users may be unsuspecting.
The solution: Obviously, users should never click such an email link. If you're not an iTunes user, pass the word to anyone you know who is.
3. Phony ad scam #1: No place for placemats
The scam: In Arkansas, the state Attorney General issues a consumer alert after businesses in Little Rock receive phone calls offering them space on newly-designed placemats for a well-known local Mexican restaurant.
Business owners pay around $200 for an ad but the restaurant knows nothing about it and has no plans to change its placemats.
The solution: It may be a new scheme and a new sales pitch but this is an old scam. A call to the restaurant would have exposed the trick, but the general rule anyway is never to pay for advertising without firm proof it's going to be published in the way you expect.
4. Phony ad scam #2: The invisible car parts book
The scam: In another phony advertising fraud, auto repair and parts stores in Hoghton, MI, are invited into a promotional book the scammer says will be distributed by a local Ford dealer with each car he sells.
The Ford dealer has already agreed to distribute the publication in return for a free ad, so the scammer easily fools the repair and parts shops into paying for their own placements. There's no book and the scammer disappears.
The solution: Potential advertisers should have sought and checked out evidence of previous publication success. If there's no verifiable track record, don't advertise.
5. Betraying trust to rob the rabbi
The scam: In Israel, a simple scam plays on trusting clergy. The scammer visits a rabbi to supposedly collect funds for the needy.
If he doesn't succeed, he asks the rabbi to make change of a high denomination note, so he can identify where cash is stored in the rabbi's office. The thief then finds a way of getting the rabbi to leave his office for a few minutes and cleans out the cash.
The solution: Never assume somebody you don't know is who they say they are, or doing what they say they're doing. And never leave money or other valuables unsecured when you exit an occupied room.
6. Bail scammer needs bail out
The scam: In Gwinnett County, GA, a scammer posing as a bail bondsman has to hire the real thing for himself after getting caught. He presents a business card to a distraught Hispanic family trying to get bail for a relative and takes a $6,300 deposit.
He leaves, supposedly to post bail, and disappears. Police investigate, arrest a suspect, who then calls on a real bondsman to bail him out.
The solution: Anyone can print a business card. These days, it means nothing and certainly doesn't confirm the identity of the individual. Contact a bondsman either directly (via a phone directory) or through the police/court system.
7. New twist on old refund scam
The scam: In an interesting twist on the current spate of tax refund cons, a Chandler, AZ, tax preparer is arrested after allegedly persuading his clients to have refunds mailed or wired directly to him.
Police claim he also forged consent forms from other clients. More than $12,000 of refunds disappear.
The solution: This is the tough one. The alleged scammer was a registered tax preparer with a nine-year track record. His victims apparently were classified as "vulnerable", mainly single females.
Best you can do is to stick with the big tax preparation firms or well-established local certified practices. If you must work with a low-cost preparer, seek recommendations from acquaintances.
8. Cheeky con runs con from inside jail
The scam: Seems like putting a convict behind bars doesn't guarantee public protection. In Auburn, NY, a jailbird passes his time telephoning people, impersonating the DA's office to obtain personal financial information so he can steal their identities. He fools at least six people, using their credit accounts to make big buys, before he's caught.
What is he in jail for? You guessed it -- identity theft.
The solution: The old familiar -- don't give personal financial details to an incoming caller. If someone requests the information with a genuine sounding reason -- and that would be very, very rare -- check their contact information out independently in the phone book, before disclosing information, to make sure they are who they say they are.
Many scams rely on criminals claiming to be someone they're not. It's relatively quick and easy to beat them by doing your own phone book and Internet ID check and keeping your cash -- and your personal finance details -- securely locked away.