List of worst scams shows huge variety of crimes: Internet Scambusters #626
For the third successive year, we're opening the Scambusters research files to show you some of the worst scams of 2014.
They show that it doesn't matter whether you're the most vulnerable target or an expert who should know better -- the con artists have you in their sights.
We also have an alert about a new and convincing message that tries to get you to give away your Amazon account details.
Let's get started...
Shame and Nerve in the Worst Scams of the Year
For the past couple of years, we've produced a list of some of the worst scams we encountered in the prior 12 months.
These issues proved popular with many subscribers, not just because some of these cons were truly mind-blowing but also because the scams underline just how easy it can be to fall victim to these tricks.
So, we're taking another look at our files and have picked out another dozen of what we consider to be among the most outrageous scams reported in the past year or so.
Here we go!
Scams of Shame
All scams are heartless. Crooks don't care about their victims. But some are simply beyond belief.
» Case in point was a Rhode Island lawyer whose victims included terminally ill people.
Posing as a philanthropist, he gained the confidence of his victims by giving them money in exchange for their personal financial details and knowledge of their health history.
Then he purchased annuities that paid death benefits and a type of investment bond in their names, cashing in when his victims passed.
The fraud took place over several years and netted $46 million for the lawyer and his investors, many of whom didn't know how they were earning their money.
» Sick people were also the unwitting targets in a Florida Medicare scam that ripped off the health insurance program to the tune of around $200 million.
40 people were jailed after being convicted of offenses in which patients suffering from dementia and other serious illnesses were exploited for the fraud.
Prosecutors said hundreds of patients were so sick that they couldn't have benefited from the supposed services offered by a chain of therapeutic clinics. Cheeky!
Some scams really have us shaking our heads for the sheer nerve of their perpetrators. Take a look at these:
» In Georgia, well-meaning law enforcement officials set up an anti-scam hotline, only to have it hijacked by crooks.
When victims phoned in their complaints, thinking they were speaking to police, scammers told them they could get their money back if they handed over personal details, which were then used for fraud.
» A New York state tax compliance employee wrote $3.6 million of bogus checks to the IRS and then claimed the money back as overpayments.
After she was arrested, she began a new scheme, filing bogus returns and then branched out into passing fake checks at a local bank.
» An Arizona man who had his PC hijacked by phony support techs tried to write a negative review of the company for the Better Business Bureau.
But the crooks hijacked his review too and turned it into a message of glowing praise!
» In Kentucky, a seemingly wheelchair-bound, speech-slurring panhandler who admitted in 2013 earning $100,000 a year from begging, was discovered a year later still practicing his phony act -- and raking in donations.
» And the cheekiest of them all: A Georgia con artist used the online classified ad site Craigslist to offer cars that were genuinely for sale on a used car lot.
He actually met people who responded to the ads at the car lot and under the noses of the car dealership's employees, took deposits from several people, and produced phony bills of sale.
Sometimes, even experts who you'd think would know better will fall victim to scams.
» We've seen it many times before and this year three people were indicted for allegedly fooling art experts into paying $80 million for "masterpieces" that were actually created by a 75-year old Chinese man in a New York garage.
A leading gallery sold 40 of the paintings -- painted on canvasses stained with tea bags -- for $63 million, saying it didn't realize they were fakes and had had them inspected by conservation experts.
» A forgery of a quite different type came to light when investigators visited a Philadelphia auto-body shop.
They discovered a menagerie of animal parts and other props used for fraudulent insurance claims.
Scammers created fake crash aftermath scenes using carcasses from deer, dogs and even geese, completing the movie-like sets with chunks of concrete, pieces of glass and plants.
» Meanwhile, over in California, a noted wine collector was jailed for 10 years at the end of an eight-year spree of manufacturing fake vintage wine, including supposedly famous and rare bottles, from the comfort of his kitchen.
He made between $8 million and $20 million at auction from experienced collectors and connoisseurs, including a couple of famous businessmen, before his scam was rumbled.
He told the court: "Wine became my life and I lost myself in it."
A Couple of Doozies
We wrap up this year's catalog of outrageous scams with con tricksters whose behavior almost defies belief.
» Staying in Southern California, the alleged operators of a massive cell phone cramming scheme were halted by the Federal Trade Commission after raking in an estimated $150 million, yes $150 million.
The group was said to have tricked people into signing up for $10 monthly text services of jokes and celebrity news.
» Finally, in India, a bogus traveling ticket inspector (whatever that may be) was arrested after he was found to have tricked a 14-year old girl into marrying him.
The details of his trick were not reported but a local paper said that after his arrest, 62 women claimed to be married to him!
Not surprisingly, he was said to have changed his names many times during his 10-year marriage spree, stole money and jewelry from many of his victims, and apparently had also fathered many children.
Sad to say, there are many more outrageous scams on our files that we don't have room for this week, but we hope that by highlighting some of them you'll be just that more skeptical when you encounter smooth-talking con artists.
Alert of the Week
Watch out for a very convincing phishing email pretending to be from online retailer Amazon.
The subject line, which is also repeated at the top of the message, beneath a genuine-looking Amazon logo, says: "Check Amazon online account for wrong billing."
It goes on to say: "A section of our billing servers has been randomly allocating unrequested orders to customers hosted on the affected billing servers."
Then it claims it's compulsory to check your account online and "conveniently" provides a supposed link to Amazon, which, in reality, takes you to a spoof sign-on page.
Don't click it. If you have any questions or worries about your Amazon account, go to Amazon.com and sign on from there.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!