8 common scams: How to spot them and
stop them -- Page 2
If you do decide to pay a company to help you find a job, ask for
all details of its services in writing before you agree to anything.
Some companies may promise jobs, but just deliver a stale list of
job openings they found in newspapers or online.
Ignore offers that promise insider information for
federal government jobs. All federal government jobs are announced
to the public.
When people are down on their luck, they may turn to get-rich-quick
or money-making schemes. Somehow the scammers make old scams, such
as the Nigerian
scam and pyramid schemes, seem like plausible ways for you to
make a lot of cash in a hurry.
You've probably been courted by the Nigerian scam,
also known as the 419 scam (named after the section of the law pertaining
to it). It comes in e-mail or letter form and may start, "Dear
Sir, I got your information from a confidential source.... "
The letter then goes on to tell you a story of a huge amount of
money hidden overseas that the writer of the letter wants to put
in your bank account. In return, he promises you a big cut of the
Long story short: Any checks you receive from this
person will be fake. The con will ask you to keep part of the money
and send him the difference. Shortly after you send him the difference
by mail or wire, his check bounces, and you owe the total amount
to your bank. Warning: Sometimes, people are told by their banks
that the check has cleared, so they wire the difference to the Nigerian
scammer. But don't be too sure: The scammers sometimes forge a cashier's
check, which fools the bank into prematurely reporting the check
as "cleared." Once the forgery is discovered, the bank
will try to hold you liable.
Like the Nigerian scam, pyramid schemes seem like
a fast way to make a lot of money.
If you've never heard of pyramid schemes, here's how
they work: One person convinces several people to join a club or
business. The only way to make money is to get more people to sign
For example, certain groups that call themselves "gift
parties" require that everyone who joins donate $4,000. All
the cash goes to the person who is at the "top." You are
told that as soon she has received a certain amount of money, she
will step down and nominate the next person to be on top.
While these schemes seem like an easy way to make
cash, inevitably, the only person to make money is the one at the
top -- who usually gets busted or blows town before the group figures
out that the math doesn't work.
The old axiom is true. If it's an easy way to make
money, it's probably illegal, a scam or just a really bad idea.
No one wants to be the bad guy -- the selfish lout who can't spare
a little change for the orphans of September 11 or children who
are cancer patients. But that doesn't mean you have to be a sucker.
If you want to give to charity, by all means, give away -- but check
out the charity first.
Never give payment information to anyone calling or
e-mailing you, claiming to be with a charity. Ask them to send you
paperwork on their organization. Then research the organization
online and with the Better Business Bureau to make sure it's legitimate
-- and that you've got the right contact information. For example,
an e-mail circulated in 2001 claimed to be from the Red Cross. It
said it was raising money for victims of Sept. 11. While the Red
Cross is a legitimate charity, the e-mail led people to a Web site
set up by con artists.
If the charity representative pressures you to give
immediately, get even more suspicious. Legitimate charities withstand
scrutiny, and never hesitate to prove
they are who they say they are.
Identity theft is not new, but it is on the rise, running rampant
over the Web at breakneck speed. The thieves need only a few elements
to victimize you -- usually, your name and Social Security number
will do. Obtaining this information is often intertwined with other
crimes -- advance fee scams and bogus job offers among them.
The name for this scam is "phishing"
-- as in fishing for your information but with a "ph"
as in "phony."
Almost any scam can be sprinkled with a smattering
of identity theft -- advance fee scams, fraud jobs and online auctions
included. All it takes to become a victim of identity theft is a
leak of your personal information. Your garbage may be targeted.
(That's why you should shred anything that has your account numbers,
Social Security number or that says you are "pre-approved"
for credit -- before you throw it away.)
Telemarketers and e-mail spammers may attack you under
the guise of protecting your accounts, auction transactions and
credit cards. Some even pretend to be law enforcement or government
If anyone from any company you do business with or
that claims to be a representative of a government agency (like
the police or FDIC) demands your personal information or an immediate
payment for any reason, ask for a number and tell them you will
call them back. Then get the number from a different source (bank
statements, credit card statements or the phone book) and ask if
the call was for real. Four bazillion dollars says it wasn't.
If this bet is wrong and there is some particularly
friendly company making these sorts of calls, it won't mind if you
say you need to call back.
Remember that clever phishing
con artists are always looking for a new angle -- they may say
they are from various different companies or agencies. Don't get
caught off guard.
Products that are too good to be true
If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Remember that a
con artist makes a career of using excuses and explanations to lead
you away from your common sense. When dealing with your money and
personal information, never allow yourself to be rushed, threatened
or persuaded against your judgment.
Don't believe offers that claim to have found a way
around the law -- like reasons you don't have to pay your bills
or taxes, promises to clean up your credit history or claims that
you can get a new Social Security number or a new driver's
license if yours was revoked. And claims of "miracle diets
or pills" that can enhance
your features or help you lose weight should be regarded with
skepticism at best.
Keep in mind that offers that are too good to be true
aren't confined to the Internet or telemarketers. They can also
be found in mail offers, the ads in the back of magazines and in
brick-and-mortar stores. Stay vigilant and trust your gut.
Stay up to date on the latest scams as they
happen. Bookmark our Scam
Alert page and check back often. If you know of a new scam,
e-mail Amy Fleitas.