9 more scams from Europe, South Africa and US
There's a distinctly British flavor to this week's round-up of the latest scam headlines, with new frauds and tricks turning up in various parts of the UK and beyond. Of course, many of these cons are familiar to readers in the US and elsewhere because scams know no boundaries. If they haven't arrived in your town yet, you can be sure they will!
Keeping up the international flavor, we've also uncovered a cheeky traffic ticket scam in South Africa. And picking up on one of the British headlines, we've a spate of distraction burglary scams to tell you about, plus a new tax con, and a wedding gift scam involving a famous celebrity.
As you can tell, we've got lots of scam news for you this week, so let's get started!
1. Join the club -- get scammed
The scam: Resort-based con artists lure British holidaymakers in Spain into joining 'Holiday Clubs' that promise cheap vacations forever in return for a payment now.
The bait is a scratch card, which is always a winner. But the victim must attend a high-pressure sales presentation to claim the prize.
Britain's Office of Fair Trading (OFT) says the average victim hands over more than £3,000 (almost $6,000) which, of course, they never see again. The OFT reckons the scammers have netted millions of pounds
The solution: Beware of scratch card prizes you don't pay for -- unless they come with your groceries. If you feel uncomfortable at a sales presentation, get up and walk out, refusing to speak to anyone.
And never believe those 'pay now and you'll save a fortune later' lines. They're nearly always lies.
2. Have monkey, will travel
The scam: We've reported before on a scam where victims are conned into buying what they believe is a missionary couple's pet from Africa. Now, scammers in Scotland are just cutting to the chase, offering pets -- anything from cats to monkeys -- free to good homes; buyers just pay transportation costs.
Needless to say, the victim is the only monkey.
The solution: It's a plausible scam, though a free monkey might be pushing it! Get your pets from licensed dealers, friends and neighbors, and animal shelters.
3. Time runs out on meter con
The scam: In Doncaster, England, phone scammers claiming to be from a new meter company tell a business owner she's entitled to a chunky refund on her fuel bill because her current meter is running too fast. They just need her bank details to arrange the refund. The businesswoman spots the scam and hangs up.
The solution: Never give your bank details to anyone you don't know. And never accept that someone is who they say they are, without verifiable proof.
4. Opening the door to thieves
The scam: It's called a 'distraction burglary scam': someone turns up on your doorstep with a story aimed at either getting into your house or getting you out of it.
In Wiltshire, England, a teen asks if he can check a homeowner's backyard for a missing pet. The owner agrees, and even helps him. Meanwhile, the teen's accomplice goes inside and clears out the valuables.
It's the same in San Jose, CA, where a trio of scammers get into seniors' houses by distracting owners with claims they've spotted roof or fence damage.
Not far away, in Sacramento, con artists posing as employees of Sacramento Water Works talk their way into an elderly couple's house; while one checks plumbing with the owners, the other is busy stealing.
Similar utility company type incidents are reported this week in Nashville, TN (claiming to be with Nashville Electric) and Detroit, MI (posing as Detroit Edison workers).
The solution: These tricksters are everywhere. Use caution opening your door, use a security chain on your front door and don't let anyone in your house unless you're 100% certain who they are.
Otherwise, ask them to wait, and phone their company (that way, you'd discover Sacramento Water Company doesn't even exist!).
With a trick like the English boys pulled, don't leave your house unguarded.
5. Oh no! Another tax scam
The scam: Seems like there's a new tax trick every week. This time, victims in California get a letter or email supposedly from the state's Franchise Tax Board (FTB) saying they're going to be audited, asking for personal financial information. The letter has a bogus reply address in Georgia but is peppered with spelling and grammatical errors.
The solution: Neither the FTB or any other tax authority solicits personal financial information this way. Always call the organization, using the phone book or Internet (not the letter) for contact details.
6. It's no joke, Ellen
The scam: Staying with the Golden State, comedienne and talk show host Ellen DeGeneres finds herself in troubled scam waters after announcing plans to marry her longtime partner.
She says she's opened a gift registry at a top store. It's meant to be a joke but a scammer opened one anyway. Fans start buying and the gifts are sent to the scammer.
The solution: Be skeptical. And consider reserving your generosity for family and friends.
7. Spamming scammer nabbed
The scam: A Scottsdale, AZ man offers supposed anti-virus, anti-spyware software with impressive-sounding names, via simulated, pop-up security alerts. In reality, it installs programs that turn victims' PCs into spamming machines.
The state of Washington nabs him, imposes a $100,000 civil court fine, and imposes an order that restricts his future activities.
The solution: We've all seen these pop-ups. Take the warnings with a pinch of salt and never click on them. Stick with well-known brands of security software.
8. Not so fine
The scam: In Pretoria, South Africa, scammers approach ticketed car owners, claiming to be city officials, offering to cancel fines in return for a small fee. The motorists pay up; but the city comes after them weeks later for unpaid fines. Hundreds of these bogus officials are later arrested after a month-long crackdown
The solution: Bottom line -- be very skeptical of people who say they can save you money in return for a fee. Always check it out carefully.
9. Cheek of the week -- scamming the sheriff
The scam: It's well known: you get a check in what seems to be FedEx or UPS overnight envelope (it's bogus). The check is drawn on a legitimate bank (it's a closed account). You're asked to deposit it and then either return a portion of it or, by some weird logic, to provide your personal finance details to an email address.
The check turns out to be a dud and you're either out of pocket or you lose your identity to a thief. But you probably won't fall for it because the letter is usually full of spelling mistakes and a totally implausible story.
And just to underline how idiotic these scammers can be, this week they sent a package to the sheriff of Grayson Count, TX. He was really peeved, especially as they didn't even spell his name right!
As this week's Scamlines show, some scams are crafty, some are stupid. Either way, keep your eye on them every week with Scambusters.org.