Con artists get creative to steal your money or ID
Sometimes, crooks go to elaborate lengths to make their scams seem more believable, as the first two of the incidents reported in this week's Scamlines demonstrate.
Our trawl through the headlines also turned up two versions of one of the most basic scams that still claims scores of victims every day -- selling forged or non-existent tickets -- as well as three new variations of phishing tricks.
And we've uncovered a phony betting tip alert, plus a new outbreak of data "kidnapping." In all, we've nine new scams to warn you about. They happened all over the world, but remember, your city could be next on the criminals' hit list.
1. Phony cop and cable guy's clever con
The scam: Scammer #1 turns up at the home of an elderly East Hartford, CT, woman, claiming to be a cable TV repair guy about to start work outside her house.
While he shows her the supposed work area in her backyard, another man arrives, saying he's a police officer investigating a spate of recent burglaries.
The trio go into the house, which has been already been ransacked (by the second guy). The bogus police officer then asks the victim to open her safe so he can check the contents. Then he "arrests" scammer #1 and the pair leave the house with the proceeds of their robbery.
The solution: This is an elaborate scam aimed at getting easy access to personal possessions and then slowing chances of the victim raising the alarm.
When you go outside with a caller, always lock your house. And never accept someone is who they say they are, whether it's a cable guy or a cop, without verifiable proof.
2. Skim scammer plays a kind-heart
The scam: A scammer who's already taken millions of dollars in Australia switches his operation to New Zealand. He phones community club officials with a phony kind-hearted offer of donated equipment. He says he'll have it delivered by courier.
The con then takes on the role of courier. He delivers some pretty worthless equipment but says his victim must now pay modest courier charges. He can't accept cash and they must use a debit card; he just happens to have a mobile card terminal with him.
Armed with the card and PIN numbers he has skimmed, he then clones the card and withdraws as much money as he can from his victim's account.
The solution: Clever trick. Better to refuse the equipment than hand over a swipe of your card details to someone at your front door.
3. Ticketing scam #1: Parent fans' blunder for Beijing
The scam: Parents of a New Zealand BMX Olympic contender, anxious to support their son in the forthcoming Beijing Games, fork out $700 for tickets on what seems to be an official website for the event.
It's a con and the tickets never arrive. They later buy them from the genuine Olympics organization -- for just $74.
The solution: Only buy event tickets from official organizers or known, reputable agencies. For the Beijing Games, start from the official Olympic Games site to find the location of ticket sales for your country.
4. Ticketing scam #2: Celtics scalpers have fans fooled
The scam: A sophisticated ticket forgery ring for Boston Celtics NBA games is rumbled by the city's Police Department. The tickets are said to look so good as to be almost indistinguishable from the real thing.
To make things worse, they're being sold by pre-match scalpers at inflated prices, way above the face value, and are snapped up by eager fans who, of course, never get to see the game.
Some arrests have been made -- more to follow, says Boston PD.
The solution: The only way to truly protect yourself is not to buy tickets from scalpers. More about counterfeit tickets here.
5. Warranty renewal you can't count on
The scam: It's bad enough that many legitimate warranties for all sorts of consumer goods turn out to be overpriced, but it's heartbreaking when the coverage you buy turns out to be a total dud.
The Tennessee Division of Consumer Affairs warns of a spate of "expired" auto warranty renewal notices landing in the mailboxes of state residents. They look official but they're really phishing for personal financial details.
The solution: If your car warranty is about to expire, contact the dealer you bought from or the warranty company you're registered with. For more info on phishing, check out this Scambusters article.
6. Data files held for ransom
The scam: Computer users unknowingly download a piece of software from a bad website which encrypts (scrambles) all the files on their PC, making them unreadable.
It then demands a ransom, payable by money transfer, for the key to unscramble them. Software company Kaspersky Labs warns of a new outbreak of the crime in the US.
The solution: Fittingly known as 'ransomware', this scam is often detected and defeated by good computer security software, but Kaspersky says the encryption codes are getting tougher to crack.
Stay safe by keeping regular, secure backups of your sensitive or valuable data files. Read our special article on ransomware.
7. Hitting where it hurts most
The scam: Heartless phishing scammers target low income Mississippi recipients of child support and unemployment benefits.
The victims receive emails supposedly about security of their benefits cards -- known as EPPICARDS. The emails quote a "Case ID" number and provide a link for the user to supposedly confirm their financial details.
The solution: This a particularly nasty variation on the well-known phishing scam that takes you to a phony website asking you to provide personal financial details. For any such request, never click on a link and always check with the supposed sender by contacting them independently using the phone book.
8. Straight from the horse's mouth
The scam: Pssst, want a good inside tip on the winner of the next big horse race? Bogus tipsters in the UK mail race-goers with an offer of inside information from the racetracks they say is guaranteed to win £10,000 a week.
The price is a fantastically discounted £100 a month for the service, sweetened with a supposed money-back offer. The tips are either phony or non-existent.
The solution: Who could refuse such a great deal? Everyone we hope.
If the scammers really had this information, why wouldn't they just bet on the winning horses instead of collecting a meagre £100 fee? They say gambling is for suckers. But this is even worse. It's simply TGTBT (Too Good To Be True).
9. Payback for scam victims? Forget it
The scam: Here's another one that's TGTBT. Previous scam victims get an email promising refunds of their losses, supposedly from the Bank of England.
The offer purports to be from Britain's Internet Crime Complaint Centre (a legitimate organization), though it's been sent to victims all over the world. The email includes an authorization form you must sign, giving away -- you guessed it -- your personal financial details. It's a phishing trip!
The solution: Surely, once bitten victims should be twice shy. Never, never, never give your financial details in response to an unsolicited email.
No government -- UK, US or anywhere else -- is ever likely to be generous enough to refund lost money to scam victims!
Clever or simple, scams claim victims every day, right across the globe. It pays to start out being suspicious about anything that's going to cost you money or that requires personal details. Only when you feel 100% sure it's legit should you do the handover. Otherwise, keep what's yours, yours.