"Down under" spotlight reveals familiar and new frauds; grandparents, mortgage scams resurface in US
After highlighting the scale of scamming in Australia - $1B of fraud every year -- in last week's Scamlines, we take a closer look this week at what's happening "down under".
We discover that some of the well-known scams stateside and in Europe are now hitting Australian shores. Plus, they're grappling with new scams of their very own -- like the self-lighting cigarette con.
We also discover two new scams running this week in a single Oregon town, the return of the Grandparents Scam in two different US locations, a new outbreak of the Real Estate Title Scam, another mortgage trick and the remarkable story of a victim who paid a fortune for a share in the unseen contents of a money bag.
1. Oz scams #1: Victims sink in tide of well-known cons
The scams: Scams that are common and well-known in the US and Europe show up across Australia.
First, there's the email or text message from a supposed hitman, demanding money for not executing the victim, apparently ordered by an enemy. Read more about hitman emails here.
Second, advance payment/overpayment scams fool apartment owners. In Brisbane, they accept a $30,000 booking for a group rental, then refund a $13,000 "overpayment" to the booker's "Logistics Manager", who, of course, is the scammer. After they wire the money, the original check bounces. More on overpayment scams here.
And third, phony fund-raisers, claiming to be seeking money to train indigenous country footballers, fool Geelong and other Southern Australian Aboriginal community groups into making donations. They hand over several thousand dollars, which they never hear of again. We covered charity scams here.
The solutions: Scammers are constantly on the move, trying their tricks in places that aren't wise to them yet. Common sense and a healthy dose of skepticism will steer you clear of these scam tricks.
2. Oz scam #2: Self-lighting cigarette investment goes up in smoke
The scam: In Brisbane again, here's one of those scams that show how gullible investors can be when they believe there's a chance of making big money from a little-known idea.
In this case, a conman takes $350,000 from people he fools into believing he has invented a self-lighting cigarette. He says he has a patent and has already sold the idea for millions of dollars to a tobacco company. All lies.
The solution: Sounds like a novel idea, maybe even feasible, doesn't it? Which is why investors take the bait so easily. If you have money to invest, be sure to do your due diligence, be skeptical and don't be so willing to believe you've found a pot of gold at the end of a rainbow.
Also, check out this Scambusters article on investment scams.
3. Oz scam #3: Chalk it up to ignorance
The scam: You know those chalk-boards they use in coffee shops and eateries to highlight the day's specials? In Maitland, New South Wales, a scammer, carrying samples of his supposed chalk-board artistry, offers to create a jazzy promo on existing boards for $25, or to sell new boards plus art work for $70. He takes the money and runs.
The solution: The first mistake in a con is when the victim believes a person is who they say they are. The second mistake is to hand over money before a job is done or the goods are delivered. The solution to both is: Don't!
4. "Rescue me" call targets grandparents
The scams: The same rescue-type con trick -- which was previous very popular last year -- pops up simultaneously in Washington state and Illinois. It's a variation of the scam in which a caller claims to be stranded and asks for money to get home.
In this case, calls target older folks. The opening line is: "It's your granddaughter....". If the victim doesn't question this or ask for a name, the scammer spins a tale of woe -- about medical bills, bail bonds and so on -- that ends with a request for money to be wired.
The solution: The calls are obviously targeted at people who may be confused and act without checking the facts, so please warn others who may be vulnerable to this trick. Obviously, the key is to ask for the caller's name. In most cases they'll hang up. But if they do give a plausible name, check out the story with parents or others likely to know the whereabouts of your grandchild.
We took a close look at Grandparents Scams in Scambusters issue # 244, whic you can read here.
5. Red faces for Edmonton Crime Stoppers
The scam: Claiming to be the disabled victim of a hit-and-run driver, a scammer asks the Crime Stoppers organization in Edmonton, Alberta, for permission to use their name to issue a plea for witnesses.
They agree, but his news release also solicits donations to a bank account he set up for himself and his wife, who is supposedly six months pregnant with twins. Media checks with police reveal the whole story to be a sham.
The solution: "This is exactly the type of activity we try to fight and here we are, part of one," says a Crime Stoppers spokesperson.
Oops! A simple check call to the police would have confirmed the accident never happened.
If you're ever tempted to donate to a heartstring tugger like this, satisfy yourself that the story has been fully checked out by the media.
6. Double hit for Oregon community
The scams: Police in Medford, OR, issue a double warning about scams that hit the town in the past couple of weeks.
In the first, a conman accesses lists of potential mortgage defaults, and contacts the victims, promising to find errors in their mortgage paperwork that will save them thousands. They pay a fee, hand over their paperwork and never see him again.
In the second, unconnected, incident a fluent Spanish speaker calls Hispanic families claiming to be from the local water company, saying he's checking on company employees. Though his motives and explanation aren't clear, he always asks the residents when they will be home.
The solution: In both cases, theft seems to be the motive. In picking up paperwork, the mortgage conman not only steals a fee but also personal financial information that could be used for ID theft.
You can find more information about mortgage scams here.
The "water company" caller appears to be trying to find out when homes are going to be empty, possibly for burglary. The key rule here is never to part with money or information to someone whose identity you're not 110% sure about.
7. Skim scam premieres at movie theater
The scam: First, they show up at gas station pumps, now they may be coming to a movie theater near you. We're talking about "skimming" devices that scammers place on top of -- or next to -- genuine credit card payment machines.
These devices, which record card numbers and PIN security codes, turn up on a payment kiosk outside a movie theater in Moose Jaw, Saskatchewan. Details of at least 100 cards are stolen, costing victims -- or their banks -- tens of thousands of dollars.
The solution: Always carefully examine ATMs and other card machines before using them. Preferably use one inside a building, less likely to be targeted. Oh, and always check your bank statements in case you were unknowingly scammed. You'd be amazed how many people never do check.
You can find more advice on avoiding ATM theft scams here.
8. Title scammers are victims themselves
The scam: Residents of Sampson County, NC, receive a letter saying their property taxes have not been paid. The letter invites the victim to sign over title to the property to avoid it being sold by the county to cover the debt.
Turns out to be the result of another bogus get-rich-quick scheme. The senders of the letter naively bought a phony list of delinquent tax payments from another scammer who said they could use it to acquire homes.
Solution: Simple. Never sign over the title on your home without professional advice. If you're behind with your property tax, speak to the taxing authority to agree what your can do about it. And, to repeat what we said above: Don't believe in get-rich-quick schemes. They rarely are.
We also covered mortgage title scams, or equity stripping, in the mortgage article mentioned above.
9. Finders, keepers?
The scam: This week's entry for the "I just don't believe it" award is the bag-of-cash scam. Two con artists approach a woman in a grocery store parking lot at Athens-Clarke, GA, claiming they found a bag containing $25,000.
They offer to share it with her, if she adds $9,000 to the stash. They say they'll then take the whole bag to another store to verify all the notes are genuine. She goes to her bank, withdraws $9,000 and drives them to the other store. They go inside and are never seen again.
The solution: Apart from this story sounding totally implausible, it's hard to sympathize with a victim who seems willing to share in money that someone else supposedly lost. What goes around, comes around.
Our stories from Australia underline how scams travel the world in search of victims. Here today, there tomorrow -- and vice versa, of course. Just about any of these tricks could turn up in your locale next, so be alert! And you would have checked and/or returned that money bag wouldn't you?