Business tricks, travel scams and the conman who claimed he worked for the Pope!
Banks, law firms, investment companies and other businesses all show themselves to be easy targets for con artists who take them for an expensive ride in this week's roundup of the latest scam headlines.
We also turn up two new variations of travel scams that use phony coupons and stolen credit cards to hook their victims, a new 809 scam, and a clever trick a blogger dreamed up to get his readers to do all his promotional work for him.
In total, we have 10 news scams for you this week -- including the curious case of the conman who claimed he worked for the Pope!
1. Check scam #1: Law firms trust their trust funds
The scam: South African lawyers fall for a phony check scam. Criminals deposit worthless checks into law firms' trust accounts then immediately ask for their money back claiming it was paid to the wrong company. Several firms fall prey -- repaying the money. Later, either the original checks bounce or turn out to be stolen.
The solution: Usually, individuals are victims but this trick shows that even law firms, who you'd think would know better, are vulnerable. Whether you're an individual or a business, never return all or part of a check payment without confirming the original with the issuing bank.
2. Check scam #2: Bogus nurses fool banks
The scam: A bogus company calling itself Premier Nurses Inc opens bank and credit union accounts for employees to cash their paychecks in Pascagoula, MS. Phony employees, wearing medical uniforms, then turn up and present checks to get their money. The checks are later returned to banks as counterfeit and the employees, of course, cannot be traced.
The solution: Something not quite right here. The banks clearly didn't do enough to check out the company's or employees' credentials. They have to pay for the consequences -- and learn the lesson for next time. It's amazing too how people accept an easily-obtained uniform as proof of the owner's identity.
3. Travel scam #1: Tickets too cheap to be true
The scam: Offering, via the Internet, what are supposedly the lowest airfares available anywhere, a company, believed to be operating out of South Africa, asks customers to pay for their tickets with wired money orders. They get their tickets but the scammers pay for them with stolen credit cards, so they're usually cancelled before the victim travels.
The solution: As of the end of June, this site was still operating but for legal reasons we can't name it. Suffice to say this offer fits firmly into the TGTBT (Too Good To Be True) category, which all Scambusters readers know to avoid. And if you really want to know the name, go to www.News.com.au and search for 'cheap tickets.'
4. Travel scam #2: Discounts You Can't Count On
The scam: Residents of Sedgwick County, KS, receive an invitation to a hotel seminar where they're sold "travel credits" and coupons that will supposedly entitle them to big-time online travel and vacation discounts.
They get a kit, ID and log-on details but later find either they can't log on or, if they do, the travel offers are limited and not worth the money they've paid.
The solution: This is a variation of the travel club scam, where tricksters use high-pressure techniques to sell worthless vacation "bargains". Beware of any free or incentivized seminar and, if you do attend, know that someone is definitely going to try to sell you something.
Plenty of genuine travel discounts are available online without any kind of club membership or enrollment fee.
Since we're in vacation season, it's as well to watch out for travel scams. Read more about travel scams here.
5. Scammer hits the jackpot, owner hits the roof
The scam: Staying in Kansas, a con artist spots a roofing contractor's sign outside a Gladstone house. He knocks on the door and tells the homeowner he works for the contractor, who needs $500 to buy more materials. The resident complies and pays up.
The solution: It's another variation of an old trick -- the contractor scam. Generally, contractors don't operate this way. Usually, you pay so much upfront and the balance on completion. But if a supposed employee does make a request like this, ask for identification and then confirm this by phone.
More about contractor scams here.
6. Holy high returns, it's a trick!
The scam: A scammer who obviously believes in thinking big claims he has connections with the Vatican that give him access to cut-price land-buys from the Catholic Church. He claims he works for the church and even shows investors ceremonial clerical robes in the closet of his New York office.
Ultimately, he dupes them out of millions of dollars, which he uses to fund a lavish lifestyle, including the use of private jets.
The solution: Most of us probably couldn't afford the chance to mix it with the high-rolling investors this conman fooled. But the case underlines an important warning about supposedly high-return, easy-money investments. They're usually fake.
We covered investing safely in issue 73.
7. Dialing-up premium payments
The scam: Victims respond to emails or phone messages by calling a phone number with an 809, 876 or 284 area code. This connects them with a fax machine, recorded message or pay-per-call service in the Caribbean or Central America.
The scammers' foreign phone company bills hefty premium service changes to the callers -- via their local phone service providers. Some say the phone companies and scammers split the proceeds.
The solution: This is called the 809 scam since that was the original area code used with this scam (and it's a story we helped break many years ago). Victims can do little about this since the foreign company is outside the US. The only real solution is not getting scammed. If you are, seek advice from your local phone company or the FTC, but don't expect much.
Check out more on the 809 scam here.
8. Costly newspaper delivery
The scam: In Chichester, England, firms and individuals accept delivery of packages to their front door by a bogus courier who charges them £20 (about $38) for the service. The packages are just full of old newspapers. Similar scams are reported in two other English cities.
The solution: Don't pay courier charges for something you haven't ordered or don't know about. If the delivery does seem plausible, make the courier wait while you open the package and check the contents.
9. Blogger turns blagger*
The scam: Trying to build traffic to his site, a blogger offers a big cash prize for a random winner of a competition to promote it. The challenge is to post a link to his site on other blogs. Dozens of people do this.
At first, the competition closes without the prize being awarded, the blogger saying there weren't enough entrants to make the competition effective. Later he claims it has been awarded but he doesn't name the winner.
The solution: Clever trick. Happily, it doesn't cost the victims anything more than a few minutes of their time and a link (they can remove). Checking out the blogger's ID (he made several weird claims about himself) and noting his apparent continual changing of the rules would have been sufficient to tell you he was up to no good.
* In case you didn't know, in urban slang, a 'blagger' is a smooth talking, persuasive conman!
10. Phony friends back sob story
The scam: After warning last week about the danger of accomplices pretending to be innocent passers-by as part of a scam, the trick is pulled again in Lancaster, England. Using a sob story, a young woman at a railway station asks a couple for money to buy a train ticket home.
The accomplices then walk by and "recognize" the woman, claiming to be friends or neighbors. They confirm her story but say they have no spare money on them to help her. The victims fall for it and pay up.
The solution: You simply can't tell if a sob story is true or not but, on balance, it's probably not. If they really wanted to pay, the victims could have accompanied the woman to the ticket office. Otherwise, best to keep your pocket book in your pocket. And just don't fall for those passer-by cons.
Yes, it's been a busy week for scams -- crimes that could be repeated in your hometown next time.
As one official said, commenting on the 809 Scam we reported: "Scammers are working 24/7. They are not slowing down. They are consistently looking for ways to scam funds. Think before you act, and use common sense."
Amen to that!