Category: ‘Senior Scams’

Romance Scams

January 17, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

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.

Weight Loss Scams

January 17, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Many of us would like to lose a few pounds and many more of us would like to lose more than a few pounds.  Eating a healthy diet and regular exercise are the keys to weight loss, but that is not quick enough or easy enough for people looking for shortcuts.  Phony weight loss products and programs are rampant and as fast as the FTC goes after one scheme (as they did in 2007 when they went after four companies who agreed to pay 25 million dollars in fines) another one pops up.

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Be wary of any weight loss product sold exclusively through mail order or exclusively over the Internet.  Remember that weight loss programs that promise quick results without diet or exercise are impossible.  Check with the FTC if you have doubts about a weight loss company.

Exercise Equipment Scam

January 17, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Exercise is good for us.  We all know that.  We also would like to find exercise equipment that makes exercising easier, quicker and more efficient.  Scam artists take advantage of our desire to find that perfect exercise equipment that will all but do the work for us and provide tremendous results in little time.  The problem is that such equipment probably does not exist.  Beware of inflated claims and again don’t trust the advertisement merely because it appears in media that you trust.  The media may not have done their homework to investigate the product before accepting the advertisement.  The FTC is always looking for exercise scams, but they have a hard time keeping up with the scammers.

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Read the fine print carefully. There rarely is anything fine in fine print.  Find out how much this is going to cost you.  How many “easy” monthly payments are you locking yourself into?  And beware of guarantees from companies that you don’t know.  The guarantees are only as good as the company that gives them.  Check with the FTC about any exercise equipment you may consider if it appears too good to be true.

Lotteries and Contest Scams

January 17, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

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.

Unclaimed Property Scam

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

You may receive an email or letter informing you that there are billions of dollars of unclaimed or abandoned money being held by the states and federal government and that some of that money is yours.  For a fee, the person or company contacting you will assist you in locating that property claiming it for you.

The truth is that indeed various state and federal agencies are holding more than 24 billion dollars of unclaimed money that is waiting to be retrieved by the rightful owners.  State laws require financial institutions, such as banks, to turn over money from inactive accounts.   Among the assets held by these agencies are savings and checking accounts, stocks, uncashed dividend checks, certificates of deposit and utility security deposits.

Where the scam comes in is when you are asked to call a company’s 809 telephone number for more information.  Unfortunately, this call will run up a steep charge on your telephone bill and the only information you will get is general useless information as to how you can claim the money yourself or pay them a steep fee for doing it for you.

Some “legitimate” companies may also contact you to assist you in getting back your missing money, but it is important to remember that they cannot have any specific information as to what you are owed because of privacy regulations that prohibit them from obtaining that information.

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The best place to find a helping hand to assist you in locating and getting back your abandoned property is at the end of your own arm.  Go to the website of the National Association of Unclaimed Property Administrators at www.unclaimed.org where you can link on to the website for your own state’s agency that deals with abandoned property and take the steps necessary to claim your abandoned property at no cost to you.  Other useful websites for locating money that you may be owed include www.irs.gov, the website for the IRS where you can find tax refund money you may be owed and www.pbgc.gov, the website of the Pension Benefits Guaranty Corporation, a federal agency that holds unclaimed pension funds.

Voter Registration Fraud

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

During election years, scam artists call their victims pretending to be from either your local voter registration board or a civic organization offering to either help you register to vote or to confirm your status as an enrolled voter.  They then ask you for information to confirm your identity, such as your Social Security number.  Unfortunately, the information gathered is not to register you to vote or to confirm your registration, but to make you a victim of identity theft.  Voter registration is not done over the phone and they never request your Social Security number.

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Never give out personal identifying information to anyone on the telephone whom you have not called and are not sure who they are.

Affinity Fraud

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

We all tend to trust people who are just like us.  That is a truism.  With a knowledge of psychology that would make Sigmund Freud envious, conmen use that trust to their advantage.  Scammers know that once they have a potential victim’s heart and trust, their wallet soon follow.

We are experiencing an epidemic of fraud that targets particular nationalities, ethnic groups, racial groups, fraternal organizations and religious groups.  Religion related scams are particularly common.  Bernie Madoff was guilty of tremendous affinity fraud within the Jewish American community.  A scam artist may join a particular church, synagogue or mosque and gain the trust and confidence of the congregation by making a significant contribution to the religious organization.  But this is just see money.  Scammers often target members of a religious, ethnic, fraternal or other group that they appear to belong to and offer “special” investment opportunities that ultimately turn out to be worthless.

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You should never trust anyone who asks you to trust him.  Always do your homework before you invest your money.  The endorsement of someone you know and trust is no substitute for real research into any investment.

Hotel Scams

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Scammers are always taking advantage of travelers and staying at a hotel carries many opportunities for scam artists to separate you from your money, starting when you check in and provide the clerk with your credit card.  Watch you card carefully throughout the initial check in process to make sure that the clerk does not run your card through a small device called a skimmer that can take all of the information from your card and enable the scammer to use your credit card without having the actual card in hand.  Make sure that the card does not leave your sight and that the only swipe of it done is through the hotel’s terminal.

Another scam that occurs in hotels happens when you receive a call from the front desk telling you that there was a problem with the credit card that you used when checking in.  The front desk clerk will tell you that you need to verify the information from the card over the phone.

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The call from the clerk is a scam and it is not from the clerk.  If you have any doubt, call the manager directly at a number that you know is accurate.

Lost Pets

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Scammers take advantage of people who have lost pets and posted fliers or notices on line.  They will be more than happy to return your pet to you for just enough money to cover the shipping costs.  Sometimes you will even get a call purportedly from a legitimate shipping company to confirm the details.  Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of people who have lost their pets by contacting them and promising to return their pets to them although they have no connection to the pet.

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If you are contacted by someone who says that they have found your pet, ask them to send a picture and make sure it is not the same picture that you may have posted on your flier.  You can tell them that you merely want to confirm that it is your pet that they have.

Staged Auto Accidents

January 16, 2012 Posted by Steven Weisman, Esq.

Scammers will stage automobile accidents in many ways, such as slamming on their brakes while driving in front of you without giving you an opportunity to stop, causing you to hit them from behind.  Generally, the scammers will have phony witnesses to bolster their case.  Sometimes they are willing to settle with you for cash rather than involve your insurance company, but other times they are looking to defraud your insurance company.

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If you are involved in an automobile accident, call the police.  When you exchange license and registration information, be careful not to provide more information than necessary to protect yourself from identity theft.  Report all accidents to your insurance company and make sure that you get the license and registration of the other driver.  Make sure you see the actual license and registration rather than just take the information provided by the other driver.