What you don't know about a sucker list can hurt you -- and why scam charity victims are often in danger: Internet Scambusters #372
Unfortunately, you (or someone you know) may already be a scam charity victim.
Are you, or someone you know, being bombarded by prize-winning announcements, dozens of requests to donate to charities, or other dubious but costly deals?
If your email inbox is overflowing, your mailbox is crammed or your phone is ringing off the hook, you may be on a scammer's register known as a sucker list.
A sucker list holds the names of people who may already have fallen for a scam charity collection or other con and are considered ripe to be targeted again, as we explain in this issue.
Let's check out today's...
How Scam Charity Victims End Up on a Sucker List -- And What You Can Do to Avoid This
Have you ever given money to a scam charity, only to discover not only that your money has gone to an unworthy cause but also that other crooks seem to have got wind of your generosity and are after you for a slice of the action?
Or maybe you know someone who is convinced they've really won a lottery payout this time, even though they previously fell for exactly the same sort of scam and lost a small fortune trying to collect it.
If either of these types of incidents applies, chances are that you (or your friend or relative) have your name on a sucker list.
Time for a quick history lesson:
Back in 1941, a movie called Sucker List told how fraudulent racetrack touts would repeatedly target the same victims with phony race tips that would entice them into betting bigger and bigger sums until they were financially cleaned out.
Even earlier, in 1923, an investment con used a similar approach, offering to buy a victim's stock in a certain company for way more than its value.
The catch was that the "buyer" would only purchase say 1,000 shares, while the victim only owned 100. Then, "by coincidence" the victim would get an opportunity to buy the 900 shares he needed from a mystery seller at a knockdown price.
He'd buy, then go back to his "purchaser" to complete the deal. But suddenly, the "purchaser" would only deal for 2,000 shares. And so on.
You get the picture. This con was known as "reloading" and it was based on the same idea of repeatedly returning to the same victim for more money.
Sad to say, decades later, this type of repeat crime has become increasingly common, based on the notion that consumers who have been tricked once are likely to fall for another scam. So their names go onto a sucker list.
These lists are traded and exchanged between criminals. And they often contain a startling amount of detail -- not just your name, address and phone number, but perhaps also details of your savings and your ability to lay your hands on more cash if needed.
If you've ever been seriously scammed, chances are your name could be on one.
How Do You Know if You're on a Sucker List?
You'll probably know if you (or a friend or relative) are on a sucker list by the volume of solicitations received every day.
We all get spam, junk mail and telemarketing calls, but if you get the sort that seek money -- from scam charity groups, lottery organizations, Nigerian bankers and questionable health product vendors -- all the time (maybe dozens a day), then you are probably being targeted.
Perhaps not surprisingly, older folks, particularly those in their 80s and 90s, are key targets for repeat scam charity requests and other money-spinning tricks.
Internet news pages are littered with distressing stories of people who discovered their aged parents have been handing over money left, right and center for all manner of non-existent causes or rubbish products.
Worse still, in some cases, the victims refuse to accept they've been tricked and become secretive as another scam charity or lottery win appears on the horizon.
(If you are interested in hearing a lottery scam artist at work, listen to this recording from the Seattle Times.)
Unfortunately, once you (or someone dear to you) get onto a sucker list, there's little you can do to get off it other than by persistently ignoring the scam charities and others to the point where the crooks lose interest in you.
But there are a number of actions you can take to try to ensure that happens or that your/their name doesn't get onto a sucker list in the first place.
How to Avoid Getting on a Sucker List:
- You haven't won a lottery or inherited a fortune, so don't respond to claims you have. You can find more on lottery scams and on secret fortunes, better known as Nigerian scams, below.Foreign Lottery Scams
- To avoid scam charity groups, check out any organization seeking donations. For lists, visit the Wise Giving Alliance or the American Institute of Philanthropy or check if they are licensed with your state.You can also see if the organization is registered as a 501 (c)(3) charity with the IRS.
For more on charity scams, see these Scambusters issues.
- Report bogus mail solicitations to the Postal Inspection Service.
- Ensure you are registered on all mail and telemarketing opt-out or do-not-call lists. See this Federal Trade Commission (FTC) site for more info.
- Install anti-spam software on your PC or set up a spam filter in your email program. If you don't know how to do this, seek advice from a computer-knowledgeable person.
- If you are truly being bombarded, consider changing your email address and/or phone number, and keep them confidential/unlisted.
- Above all, do not respond to any solicitations for money that come from someone you don't know.
If you suspect a friend or relative may be on a sucker list used for charity scams, bogus lotteries and other cons, you may get a hint from their behavior.
If they seem to be secretive or to be regularly acquiring magazine subscriptions, online health medications, trinkets or other novelties, or withdrawing or spending large sums of money, tactfully ask about them.
Whether or not this is happening, take the time to explain about charity scams and other tricks and tell them about sucker lists. They may not want to hear (and certainly won't want to be labeled as "suckers") but persist.
In the case of close relatives who continue to hand over money for dubious causes, you might be able to persuade them to let you review their mail and to not make payments without consulting you.
In limited cases, it is possible to take legal action for what is called conservatorship or durable power of attorney, which enables you to monitor or control their spending. You should speak to an attorney about this.
The sad thing is that some people, who might otherwise consider their lives to be dull, enjoy the "excitement" of chasing elusive lottery wins (that the rest of us know are bogus).
A widely-practiced, sneaky trick, for example, is to tell a victim they've won a lottery but for an additional payment they'll be entered for an even bigger prize.
Of course, they "win" that too and can then go on to the next level for another fee. And on it goes, with victims borrowing, maxing their credit cards and even mortgaging their homes in their attempt to land the big one.
Don't let that be you -- or anyone you care about.
The reality is that you don't have to be a sucker to get on to a sucker list or become the repeated target of a charity scam. But you do have to work darned hard to escape. However, you can do it!
But better yet, by subscribing to Scambusters and by telling people you care about to subscribe as well, you can learn about scams BEFORE you become a victim. That's a much better approach.
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.