Crooks scour building permits to launch home inspection scam: Internet Scambusters #602
A quality control or city home inspection might seem like a natural follow-up from a property improvement project -- but it could also be a con trick.
We explain why in this week's Snippets issue, along with warnings about a new and costly work-from-home scam and cute baby photo competitions.
And in our Alert of the Week we highlight a big surge in a longstanding scam, where victims are told they're being fined for failing to turn up for jury duty.
Let's get started...
Warnings on Fake Home Inspections, Home Working Scams and Baby Photo Tricksters
If you've had some property improvement work done recently, you won't be surprised if someone from your contractor or city planning department turns up to do a home inspection to check that the work has been done properly.
But you will be surprised if a bill arrives a few days later for the follow-up work. And you'll be furious when you later discover it was a scam and the inspector had nothing to do either with the contractor or the city.
Or, imagine being duped into letting crooks use your credit card to buy goods and then getting you to ship the items to them.
We have the details of these two recent scams in this week's Snippets issue, along with a warning about dubious cute baby photo competitions.
Bogus Contractor Quality Inspection
Like many scams, the fake home inspection is a trick that exploits publicly available records.
In this case, crooks monitor building permits to discover recently completed construction and remodeling projects.
This tells them what the work was and who did it, so it's then a simple matter of contacting the homeowner, posing as a planning official or contractor representative to arrange the "quality check."
The scammer will then claim he had to do additional work and present the homeowner with a bill.
Alternatively, if the crook claims to be a planning department employee, he will charge an "inspection fee."
In addition, if the work has been done inside the house, the crook also gains access to the property where he may go on a stealing spree.
Action: Don't let anyone inspect your home building or improvement project without verifying their credentials.
You can phone your contractor or your council office to check.
Even if you discover it's a genuine inspection, check if there is going to be a fee -- this would be highly unusual either for a planner or contractor.
The Shop and Ship Scam
Organized crime gangs have come up with another work from home job scam.
It's a variation of the home shipper scam, in which victims are tricked into receiving items bought online with a stolen credit card, and then shipping them abroad.
This time, though, the victim is in for a double hit -- because the crooks actually use his or her credit card to make their purchases.
It's a complex scam, in which the victim uses their own card to buy the goods, usually high-priced electronics, and the crooks then settle the card account each month so the victim does not become suspicious.
What he/she doesn't know is that the money being used to pay off the card bill is actually coming from a hacked business account -- in other words, it's stolen money.
When the hack is finally discovered, the cardholder becomes responsible for repaying the stolen money -- as well as possibly facing criminal charges.
In one recent case, a victim was left $90,000 out of pocket.
Action: Because of the appeal of working from home, this jobs market is teeming with scams.
For example, check out this earlier Scambusters issue, Work At Home Jobs: How to Avoid Getting Scammed.
In this latest variation, the job is often dressed up to look convincing, with benefits and 401k plans supposedly on offer.
The solution is simple: Don't use your own money to buy goods like this as part of a supposed job.
In fact, avoid any home job that involves buying or receiving products and then shipping them abroad. Genuine jobs like this just don't exist.
Dubious Baby Photo Competitions
Proud parents and grandparents are the target for a common and remarkably simple way of getting hands on their money: responding to invitations to send photos of their little cuties for a supposed competition.
Submitters have to pay a fee, usually about $20, which keeps it in the "where's-the-harm?" category -- in other words, a fee that people aren't too worried about losing.
But precisely because of that, the organizers are able to pull in a small fortune.
Of course, there are many legitimate baby photo competitions, especially in local newspapers and parenting magazines.
And even the dubious ones may actually announce a "winner" and some kind of prize.
But the less reputable ones will also encourage you to submit more photos (with additional fees for each one, of course).
Then they tell you that your beautiful baby photo has been selected for inclusion in a book of "winning photos," which, naturally, you can buy for $50 or so.
The book may be published, with a grand-sounding "Beautiful Babies" title, but you won't find it in your local or online bookstore. The only recipients will be those who pay up.
Action: Don't pay to enter photo competitions, even if the prize is said to be a modeling contract or a huge amount of cash.
There are enough free competitions for you to show off your pride and joy.
And if you want your child to become a model, contact a legitimate modeling agency that doesn't charge upfront fees.
Alert of the Week: We're seeing a surge in a longstanding and well-known scam in which victims are told they failed to show up for jury duty and must pay a fine or go to jail.
In the latest incidents, victims are told they must pay immediately by credit card, which means their details may then be used for ID theft.
Don't pay. The jury summons system doesn't work this way. Hang up and, if in doubt, phone the Clerk for Jury Duty at your local courthouse.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!