Lighten up! When Crazy Scams by Scam Artists Backfire, Misfire or Are Just Plain Daft

Sometimes you just have to smile at the nerve or sheer idiocy of some crazy scam artists: Internet Scambusters #350

Scamming is a serious business. Of course. And sometimes the consequences are very painful for the victims of scam artists.

But there are other times when the actions of the crooks and hoaxers just make you smile or shake your head in disbelief — like impersonating the dead or getting caught on camera.

So, here’s an opportunity for us to lighten up at the end of the summer and bring you some weird and incredible stories from the far side of the world of crazy scams.

Now, here we go…

Lighten up! When Crazy Scams by Scam Artists Backfire, Misfire or Are Just Plain Daft

Although scamming is a serious business, we regularly come across reports of crazy scams that just make you smile or shake your head in disbelief.

So this week, we thought it’d be a good idea to lighten up for once and bring some of the more incredible tales from our collection.

Like most scams, they fall neatly into categories that happen over and over again — and no doubt will continue to do so.

Crazy scam # 1 — ID theft gone mad: When the living take over the dead.

Some people are worth more dead than alive. But you just need everyone else to think they’re still with us. If you saw the movie Weekend at Bernie’s, you’ll get the idea.

Mostly, this happens when a person passes and a friend or relative tries to collect their Social Security, welfare payment or other benefits. So they just don’t tell anyone.

This leads to all sorts of gruesome tricks and crazy scams, from hiding the body in a freezer to impersonating the individual to pretending they’re still alive.

Just a few weeks ago, New York police arrested a guy they claimed had been going around dressed as his mother for SIX YEARS, so he could collect on her Social Security, and even launch some legal actions in her name.

He got away with it, the cops say, by changing details on his mom’s death certificate when she was buried in 2003, then dressing up in her clothes and even carrying around her oxygen tank.

In another New York stunt, two men wheeled the body of a dead pal to a store so they could cash his Social Security check. They were smart enough to leave the body outside, but some people passing by, including a detective, apparently weren’t fooled.

Crazy scam # 2 — Duh! The cheeky con.

Sometimes, the simple tricks are the best. And some people get away with them for years.

Panhandlers who tuck up a leg or an arm inside their coat find their feigned disability can improve the day’s takings.

And some distraction scams leave their victims with that “Duh!” feeling after they were fooled into looking away while someone either robbed them or tied their shoelaces together.

But our “favorite” is a well-practiced scam that’s been around for decades.

In this trick, the scammer offers to replace every light bulb throughout the victim’s house for just a few dollars.

Of course, he keeps the bulbs he has removed, then goes next door and pulls the same trick with these old bulbs. And so on.

He only has to buy the first set of bulbs, then it’s just a matter of redistributing everyone else’s throughout the neighborhood.

Crazy scam # 3 — I just didn’t think it through.

It seemed like a good idea at the time. And maybe it was. But the scam artist just didn’t think it through properly.

Like the bank robber who wrote his cash demand on the back of a piece of paper containing his name and address.

The most common variation of this crazy scam is when an individual feigns an accident in order to claim compensation, forgetting that the whole thing is being recorded on closed-circuit security cameras.

In recent incidents, ever-vigilant cameras have caught scammers pouring vegetable oil on the floor of grocery stores then pretending to have slipped, and others purposely walking behind cars as they maneuver in parking lots, then claiming to have been injured or knocked down.

In another trick, a scam artist reported his car stolen so he could collect on the insurance, then sold the vehicle to someone else. When the title was transferred to the new owner, all the pieces fell into place. Police matched the whole thing up on their computers.

Crazy scam # 4 — Pranks that people take seriously.

Hoaxes are a big part of the world of scams. Just visit our Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center or check out this year’s report on April Fool’s Day scams.

Urban Legends and Hoaxes Resource Center

Have Fun But Beware: The Sinister Threat Behind April Fools’ Day

Practical jokers get a big kick out of fooling others, and sometimes the things they invent go on to have an existence of their own.

A good recent example happened following the death of French composer and conductor Maurine Jarre earlier this year. A student posted a fake quote in the composer’s Wikipedia entry.

It was impressive, with phrases like “my life has been one long soundtrack” and “when I die there will be a final waltz playing in my head.”

In fact, it was so good that hundreds of media reporting the death used it in full.

Like so many pranks, you could certainly say that was in poor taste. But other crazy scams in this category are just a goof.

There are those emails that suggest you are being watched by your computer or that if you come close enough to your monitor you’ll be able to detect a scent with which the message has supposedly been saturated.

Another current one of questionable taste is the pirate-hunting cruise, offering an adventurous vacation with a difference — hunting pirates off the coast of Africa for $800 a day plus weapons rental.

Crazy scam # 5 — When scammers get their comeuppance

What we really like best among crazy scam stories are instances where the scam artists get caught out or strung along.

A whole Internet pastime, called “scambaiting,” has grown up in which participants attempt to turn the tables on scammers and, if possible, force them to spend their own money.

We don’t recommend this activity to our subscribers because messing with crooks can be fraught with danger. Nonetheless, an Internet search will turn up some hilarious stories of people who have done it.

For instance, there’s the scambaiter who forced a scam artist to pay outrageous shipping charges for 80 pounds of junk he thought were laptops he had conned from a seller, and another who proposed to the “daughter” of a “widow” who had sought his help supposedly to smuggle money out of Africa.

Also recently, two Brits who tried to pull the Black Money Scam (a pile of worthless paper that can supposedly be turned into currency using an expensive solvent) on a Serbian man, discovered too late that their victim was a gangster.

His gang kidnapped them and beat them up.

And in Southern Spain, a Russian Mafioso gang told a kidnap victim they’d injected him with a fatal virus to which only they had the antidote, and which, of course, they would sell to him for an outrageous sum.

Apparently, it never occurred to them that he’d just go straight to the police, who arrested the crooks when they turned up to collect.

Well, most of these stories of crazy scams are the lighter side of what we do. But of course, there’s a cautionary side too because the consequences can be so painful.

For instance some of the tortured language and grammar employed by perpetrators of Nigerian cash-smuggling would be hilarious if the consequences weren’t so devastating.

But let’s not forget that scam artists, no matter how cunning and devious their schemes, often fail to fool their victims or they get caught and end up behind bars.

Now, there’s another reason to smile.

That’s it for today — we hope you enjoy your week!