Timeshare Scams

The FBI is warning timeshare owners to be wary of two interrelated scams presently going on around the country.  The scams initiate with a telephone call or email form the scammer to a timeshare owner in which the scammer represents that he or she is a timeshare broker who can provide a sale of the timeshare owner’s unit within up to ninety days.  After a high pressure sales pitch, the timeshare owning victim is told that he or she must first pay a number of fees such as listing fees and advertising fees.  Much to the chagrin of the timeshare owner, once the fees are paid, the scam artist disappears with the money after doing nothing to market the timeshare unit.

Relatively soon thereafter, however, the victimized timeshare owner often finds that he or she is contact by another scammer, this time posing as someone involved with an agency that recovers money for people who have been scammed.  Again, there are upfront fees to be paid that, once paid, end the relationship with the scammer who is never heard from again.  Often this second round of scamming the same victims is done by either the original scammers or someone to whom the name and contact information of the scam victim has been sold.

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Be wary of anyone offering to sell your timeshare unit who wants upfront fees paid before obtaining a legitimate buyer.  Check out the person or company offering the assistance with the FTC, your local attorney general and the Better Business Bureau.   As for anyone offering help in getting your money back, the request for upfront fees should be a good indication that they are not legitimate.  You should also check them out with the FTC, your local attorney general and the Better Business Bureau.

Prime Bank Schemes

This scam keeps reappearing.  It involves the scammer telling the victim that they can get huge returns on their investments by being let in on the “secret” investment portfolios of the world’s largest and most elite banks.  You may be told that these investments are a secret and that only select banks and privileged investors are permitted access to these investment programs.   In fact, it is so secret that federal regulatory agencies don’t even know about it. You may even be required to sing a nondisclosure agreement by which you promise not to divulge to anyone that you are one of the lucky few involved in this investment.

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There is no such prime bank investment program.  It is a scam.  The fact that you are told that even federal regulatory agencies don’t know about this secret program is a good indication that it is nothing more than a scam.  A good question to ask yourself is, “Why am I so lucky to be offered to participate in this investment program?”  The answer is that you are lucky enough because you are targeted as a victim.

Pump and Dump Stock Scams

Everyone would like to be able to invest in a stock while the price is still low, but can be expected to rise dramatically.  This desire for the quick hit is used by scam artists in a scam called the “pump and dump.”  In this scam, you may receive an email or a fax, often apparently intended for someone else informing you of a company with a low cost stock that is about to have its price rise tremendously.  Other times the stock may be talked up in Internet chat rooms.  Most often these companies are small capitalization companies, often referred to as penny stock companies.  These stocks are often thinly traded.  Following the advice, from someone they don’t know, the victim buys the stock and, sure enough, the stock value promptly rises, but then without warning, the stock plummets in value and you are left with a poor investment.  This scam is created by criminals who buy the stock themselves at a low value and then influence others to buy the stock regardless of the fact that the stock would not be expected to rise in value were it not for the fact that the scammers misrepresent the stock to their victims and lure them into buying it.  Once the stock has shot up in value, the criminals, knowing that the emperor has no clothes, sell their stock, make a profit and leave the victims with worthless stock certificates.

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Always consider the sources of any investment advice that you receive.  How reliable is the source?  What are their credentials?   What do they stand to gain?  Is it inside information that they are offering in violation of securities trading laws?  Remember Martha Stewart who went to jail for lying about involvement in insider trading.

Online Job Scams

The internet is a great place to search for a job and posting your resume online with one of the many online employment services can be a great way to contact many prospective employers.  However it is also a very effective way to contact scammers.  Scammers will pose as job recruiters for legitimate companies and contact you to tell you that they are impressed by your resume, but that they need to do further investigation into you before they can offer you a job.  In order to do that, they tell you, they need your Social Security number and other personal identifying information.  Unfortunately, once a scammer has that information, it is a short trip to your becoming a victim of identity theft.

Another scam comes when you list your resume with a legitimate online employment company, but list too much information in your resume such that scammers posing as potential employers gain access to your resume and use the information in your resume to make you a victim of identity theft.

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Never provide your Social Security number or other personal identifying information to a job recruiter until you have met with him or her personally in a real office.  By meeting in person, you can confirm that the company is real.  You should also check out any company that you have questions about with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and your local state attorney general.

Also never include information in an online resume that turn you into a victim of identity theft.  Do not include your Social Security number, your birth date, your home address or your telephone number.  In fact, you should not even include your full name.  Use just your first initial and last name.

Mystery Shopper Scam

These scams lure victims by telling them that they will be paid to shop at various stores and then report on their shopping experience to market research firms that work for the retailers to help them evaluate and improve their customer relations.

How the scam works is that once the victim signs up for the program, he or she receives a certified bank check to cover the cost of the purchases (which the mystery shopper is allowed to keep) as well as the payment to the mystery shopper for his or her services.  The scam artist further instructs the victim to wire back to the scam artist the balance remaining of the funds sent by the certified check.  Many victims have thought they were being careful by waiting for the check to clear before making their purchases and sending back the remainder only to find that banks routinely give provisional credit for checks of less than $5,000 within five days.   Once the certified bank check is discovered to be a forgery, the bank deducts the amount of the check from the victim’s account.  Unfortunately, also deducted from the victim’s account are the funds that the victim wired to the scam artist under the mistaken impression that the certified bank check indeed was an actual certified bank check.

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Whenever you are provided payment by check, always wait for the check to truly clear before trusting that the funds are legitimate.  One reason that mystery shopping scams work is that there are legitimate mystery shopping jobs although they are relatively few.  A good place to check out if a mystery shopping company is legitimate is with the Mystery Shopping Providers Association, a trade organization of legitimate mystery shopping companies.  Their website can be found at http://www.mysteryshop.org/

As always, you should also check into the particular mystery shopping company you are interested in with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and your local state attorney general.

Work at Home Scam

Working at home sounds very appealing.  No commute and you get to work in your pajamas.  What could be more convenient than that?  Stuffing envelopes, a common work at home scam from the past has been updated to offers of being paid to read emails.  The range of work at home scams is constantly changing and evolving, but the result is always the same – rarely are these work at home schemes legitimate nor do they provide any income except for the scammers who operate them.  Often the advertisements for these work at home scams appear in legitimate media who have not properly checked out the legitimacy of the advertisement.

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As always, if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.  Check out work at home scams with the big three – your local attorney general, the Better Business Bureau and the FTC.  And as always, you can Google the name of the particular company offering you the work at home program with the word “scam” next to it and see what turns up.

Credit Report Scams

For various reasons many people find themselves in debt and in desperation turn to whatever and whomever it takes to help them out.  Although there are legitimate credit counseling agencies, there are also many scammers using your financial troubles as an opportunity to steal money from you.  They may make unrealistic promises as to being able to fix your credit report immediately, they may attempt to use illegal tactics such as “file segregation” that involve obtaining a new Employer Identification Number for you to substitute for your Social Security number in an effort to illegally hide your past credit history.

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Check out any credit counseling or credit repair agency you may be considering with the National Foundation for Credit Counseling or the Association of Independent Consumer Credit Counseling Agencies along with the Federal Trade Commission and your own state’s attorney general to make sure that they are legitimate.

Romance Scams

Online dating services can be a great way to meet people and most of them are legitimate, however, there are a number of phony websites that offer to find that special person for you, but only end up breaking your wallet as well as your heart.  In particular, many of the scams are based outside of the country.  The Russian Republic of Mari El is renowned for its scam romance websites that lure unsuspecting people into sending money to bring over their new loves from overseas only to learn that the entire thing was a scam.

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Check out any dating or romance website with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau or even one of the simplest scam tests is to Google the name of the website with the word “scam” next to it and see what comes up.

Lotteries and Contest Scams

Year in and year out, lottery and contest scams are some of the most lucrative scams for conmen.  You may be told that you have won a large lottery or contest.  To further gain your confidence, you may even be told that the contest or lottery has been approved by the FBI or that the contest is sponsored by a big company with which you may be familiar, such as Clorox, a legitimate company whose name was used by scammers to steal money from unsuspecting victims.  Most of these lottery scams involve you having to pay various processing fees or even income taxes to the lottery sponsor.

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It is hard enough to win a contest you enter, so you should be particularly wary when told that you have won a contest that you never even entered.  Legitimate contests and lotteries do not have processing fees that you have to pay and they do not collect income taxes from you.  The sponsor either would pay the taxes on your behalf or provide you with an IRS Form 1099 informing you of how much money was paid on your behalf to the IRS or you would be responsible to pay the IRS directly.  You would not pay the income taxes on the prize to the contest sponsor.

And beware of your winnings coming to you in the form of a certified bank check.  Unsuspecting victims have deposited these checks and waited for the check to clear before sending processing fees only to find that the check was a forgery and their own bank had only given them provisional credit for the check so that once it bounced, the victim not only lost the “winnings” but also the processing fees.