Flood victims are an easy target, so are the kindhearts
As if they're determined to prove they have no conscience at all, scammers love to hit their victims when they're already down and out. So we weren't surprised to pick up news reports from across the Midwest this week where evil tricksters are preying on victims of the floods.
Another favorite ruse is to cash-in on people who do have a conscience by passing themselves off as charity workers. Charity cons are commonplace but we were shocked to discover how young the scammers are these days -- in one case, a girl of 12.
In fact, we've got news of two charity scams, two new phishing scams and a clutch of other tricks in this week's Scamlines round-up. In total, we've got eight new scams to report -- plus news of a hoax to watch out for.
Get the lowdown and be prepared for when these scammers turn up in your town -- as they surely will.
1. Scammers flood Midwest disaster areas
The scam: It doesn't take long for wicked con merchants to spot a money-making opportunity from the recent disastrous floods in the Midwest. In Iowa they offer to speed up compensation claims or building permits.
They either ask for cash or personal financial details, including the victims' FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency) registration number. Others claim to be FEMA inspectors or approved contractors offering to get clean-ups done quickly and cheaply.
The solution: Check references of anyone offering to help with insurance or repair work. FEMA officials carry visible photo ID at all times and you can contact them independently to confirm identities. For preference, work with reliable, local licensed companies. And even though it is is very difficult, be patient. Impatience can be very costly. You'll find more on contractor scams here.
2. Bank falls for dollars-for-nickels trick
The scam: In Goleta Valley, CA, a scammer asks a bank to change his rolls of quarters into dollar bills. His coins, packed in official money wrappers, look like the real thing. In reality there's a quarter at either end and a stack of nickels, bulked out with athletes' tape, in the middle. The weight of each roll, though, is accurate so the bank doesn't get suspicious till after the scammer has gone.
The solution: Scammers also use this trick in stores. Always split at least one of the rolls to check the contents. If you have the time and the inclination, split them all.
3. Switch off this flat screen TV scam
The scam: Here's an interesting variation of the series of scams related to the US economic stimulus package. Up till now, the main scam involves trying to get your personal details, or even get hold of your check, by pretending to be the IRS.
But in Raleigh, NC, residents get an email asking them to become a distributor of flat screen TVs as part of a government program to boost the economy. Victims who accept the offer receive a check that appears to come from the US Treasury but -- you guessed it -- it's a dud and the victim is asked to wire part of the money back.
The solution: We hope by now that Scambusters readers know better than to ever bank a check and wire money to the supposed sender before the original check clears (which can take weeks). And whatever we think about the government, we should know they probably have got better things to do than give away flat screen TVs. 😉
4. Phishing scam #1: Conman claims SSA computers are down
The scam: Claiming that computer systems have crashed, a scammer in Watsonville, CA, telephones or visits the homes of Social Security recipients. He says that, without computers, the Social Security Administration (SSA) can't make benefits payments unless victims give him their personal details -- Social Security number, date of birth and so on.
The solution: This is a blatant phishing scam, but several seniors were caught out. The SSA has backup computer systems that would prevent the sort of failure the scammer claimed. But, as always, you should never give personal financial details to a phone or front door caller. The claim should have been checked out with the SSA. Find out more about phishing scams here.
5. Phishing scam # 2: Jury duty arrest threat
The scam: A well-known scam resurfaces in New Hanover, NC, when residents receive a call supposedly from the Sheriff's department asking why they didn't turn up for jury duty. When the victims say they didn't get the original summons, the scammer asks for their Social Security numbers and date of birth so an arrest warrant can be can be cancelled.
The solution: Jury summonses and any follow-up actions are dealt with by the courts administration, not by the Sheriff. Don't believe someone is who they say they are without firm proof. Check them out independently, via the phone book or the Internet. Find more on jury duty scams here.
6. Charity scam #1: Youngster uses legit charity name as a front
The scam: Using the legitimate name of the Multiple Sclerosis Society as a front, a 12-year-old girl travels around Ohio, claiming she has the disease and asking businesses to make donations to the Society -- via her, of course! Sometimes, she says the Society will provide passes to a local amusement park in return for donations. Other times she just asks for cash.
The solution: This is a cunning variation of the charity scam -- made more plausible by the tender years of the scammer. Unless you're 110% sure of the identity of a collector, always make your donations direct to the charity. You can read more about charity scams here.
7. Charity scam #2: Fund-raising banners are shipping scam lure
The scam: A San Mateo, CA, print shop owner is almost taken in by an order for fund-raising banners declaring "Hungry Children, Homeless Children, Help a Child, Feed a Child".
He prepares the banners without any upfront payment then gets suspicious when asked to send them via an unknown shipping company to Ghana. The supposed shippers ask him to pay for shipment in advance. He realizes it's a scam and doesn't pay -- but he's still carrying the cost of producing the banners in the first place.
The solution: Don't do business with someone who insists you ship with a particular company unless it's an established, reputable one. Be wary of working on an order without any kind of deposit from someone you don't know.
8. Investors' cash is treasure hunters' bounty
The scam: In Brisbane, Australia, con artist treasure hunters dupe investors out of a small fortune by promising to salvage valuables from sunken ships in South East Asia. They make misleading claims, impress people by running a booth at a diving exhibition and finally net around US$600,000 from would-be backers. No salvage operations ever take place.
The solution: The alleged scammers have been arrested but most of the money has sunk without trace. Even backing legal expeditions is a high-risk venture you shouldn't go into without being prepared to lose all. In this particular case, checking out the pair's credentials would have revealed they had no track record.
9. This pump-and-run scam is a hoax
The hoax: Residents in various parts of Indiana receive an email, supposedly issued by state police, warning of pump-and-run scammers operating in the state.
The email says the scammers steal license plates to hide their identity when they pump gas and drive off without paying. Gas station cameras photograph the stolen license plates and the victim gets the gas bill.
The truth: Not true, say state police. The scam certainly exists but the current alert is a hoax that's turned critical because so many people have forwarded the email to their buddies.
Police are tied up answering calls from worried residents when they should be out catching criminals. A tip: Never trust an email that asks you to "pass it on". They are hoaxes. And don't pass it on without checking it out online.
Many of this week's scams were variations on familiar tricks. Be careful -- scammers are everywhere. So you're smart to read Scamlines and Scambusters to protect yourself.