TV switch over, Iraq war cons and phony sting among 8 new scams
Whenever there's something new and unknown on the horizon, you can count on scammers to cash in on the confusion. That's what's happening right now with the planned switch-off of analog TV transmissions next year.
In this week's round up of scam headlines, we show how rip-off merchants are four-times overcharging for digital TV converters. Meanwhile, other con artists have been using scare stories about the Iraq war and a fire on the Statue of Liberty to fool their victims.
In our collection of 8 new scams this week, we've also uncovered a cunning phony sting on convenience stores and two interesting variations of established frauds -- the mystery shopper and domain name scams.
1. $20 TV box costs victims $99
The scam: In Ohio and Wyoming, residents are offered a "free" digital TV converter box, ready for when analog TV services end next year. Although it's a legitimate offer, the supplier insists recipients take out a warranty for $59, plus pay shipping and handling fees of $40 -- for a total outlay of $99. The same converters sell for less than $40, with US government coupons, in retail stores.
The solution: The impending switch to digital TV confuses many viewers. Visit a reputable TV retailer or see the Federal Communications Commission website for the lowdown on what to do and how much to pay.
2. "Good luck" bracelet brings $20,000 misfortune
The scam: In Vancouver, Canada, a scammer approaches a Chinese woman who speaks no English, at a bus stop. She offers the victim a jade bracelet she says will bring good luck and health.
Two Chinese-speaking accomplices of the scammer, pretending to be passers-by, join the discussion and eventually persuade the woman to go to her bank and withdraw $20,000 to pay for the bracelet. The item is genuine jade but worth only a fraction of the price.
The solution: Never buy anything from a person you meet on the street. Beware the scamming technique where accomplices pretend to be innocent passers-by who then marvel at the supposed bargain.
3. Trojan masquerades as news sensation
The scam: Using one of up to 40 different sensational subject headings, scammers try to lure victims to click an email link. The link leads to an adult site that tells victims they must download an ActiveX program to view the content.
Instead, the site loads a Trojan program that seizes control of the computer and uses it for spamming.
In the past week alone, more than 8 million of these messages have been sent out. Subject headings include "Obama quits presidential race" and "Statue of Liberty struck by lightning, catches fire." The Trojan is a well-known piece of malware called Storm.
The solution: Don't click on links in emails, even if they appear legitimate. If it's not spam and the supposed content interests you, type in the URL. Also, do your own Internet search on the subject. A list of many of the Trojan subject headings can be found here.
Learn more about Trojans and viruses here.
4. Phony smokes sting targets convenience stores
The scam: Scammers posing as county officials target convenience stores in Hamilton, PA, with a phony cigarette-sales-to-minors sting. First a youngish man buys a pack of cigarettes then leaves. Another man enters, produces a bogus ID card and tells the store they sold cigarettes to a minor and are being fined $100.
The solution: Don't sell cigarettes to anyone appearing to be under 25 without checking their ID. In some cases, victims said the first caller definitely appeared to be older than 25. If this happens to you and you're told you'll be fined, don't hand over money; instead, check out the "sting" operation with police, city or county authorities.
5. Card readers broadcast details to parking lot laptops
The scam: Daring, high-tech scammers in Montreal, Canada, remove card readers from stores and restaurants as they're about to close, replacing them first thing next day. By then, they have Bluetooth (computer radio-signal) chips inserted. The scammers sit outside in the parking lot, collecting card details on their laptops as they're scanned in.
About 1,000 cards are cloned and the scammers got away with more than $1 million before their crime was discovered.
The solution: Card users are powerless to prevent this scam but stores and restaurants can avoid it by simply fastening card readers firmly to the counter. Victims shouldn't lose out -- banks and credit card companies usually stand the loss in these circumstances.
6. Bogus Red Cross officials spin war wounds story
The scam: Last week they were scamming in Utah, this week heartless con artists turn up in Montgomery, AL, claiming to be Red Cross officials. They tell families of military staff their son/daughter has been injured in Iraq and is being airlifted to Germany for treatment.
The caller sometimes asks for personal details such as birth date and Social Security number or requests a donation.
The solution: The Red Cross doesn't do this sort of thing. The service member's command or other military rep usually makes contact with family. Never give information, including confirmation that a family member is deployed, to unknown people.
We previously covered war victim email scams here.
7. Phony bank number dupes "mystery shoppers"
The scam: Secret/mystery shopper tricksters put a new spin on their scam by trying to convince victims of their authenticity. Thousands of checks, supposedly drawn on Marco Community Bank on Marco Island, FL, drop into mailboxes across the US, with a letter saying the recipient has been selected to become a mystery shopper.
So far, it's the same old scam -- victims are asked to deposit the check and return some of the money to a "secret shopping" company in Ontario, Canada.
But then, the letter invites recipients to phone the bank to confirm the check is genuine. The letter gives a false phone number for the bank though, and so, of course, callers are told: yes, the check is genuine. But it's not.
The solution: Anyone who cashes the check is liable to repay their bank when it bounces, so they're out of pocket for whatever they sent to the scammers. Genuine mystery-shopper companies don't operate this way. If you get a check from anyone you don't know, find the bank's phone number independently and verify its authenticity with them. In this case, the real Marco Community Bank was able to tell callers the checks were not genuine.
We've done several past articles about mystery shoppers and secret shoppers.
8. New twist on domain name scam
The scam: You already own your own domain name, but you don't have the .com extension. Instead, maybe you have .net, .org, .us or one of the others. Then you get an email or letter offering you the .com domain for a bargain price -- usually a couple of hundred dollars.
The "seller" doesn't really own the domain but it may be available and the scammer may be operating legally -- just trying to make a fast buck. Or someone may already own the domain and the "seller" is out to con you.
The solution: Previously, domain name scams aimed at getting you to pay an inflated fee to "re-register" a name you already own. This is a new twist.
It's easy to check domain name availability, either with the company that manages your existing domain name or by going to sites like Whois.net. Certainly, you should never send money to an unknown individual who offers you a domain.
You can find more about domain name registration scams here.
This week's haul of scams underlines just how inventive con artists can be in their efforts to convince you they're genuine. Their other ploy is to move from one location to another, as they're exposed. By keeping up to date via Scamlines, you'll be prepared for when they hit your town.