Scam of the day – May 23, 2012 – Utility payment identity theft scam

Many people across the country are receiving communications through email, text messages or even personal visits from scammers who indicate that they are representatives of various utility companies that supply electricity, fuel oil, or water telling the victims that there is a federal $1,500 credit for utility bills for which the victims are eligible.  The scammers are asked to provide their Social Security numbers for identification and verification purposes, however the real purpose is to take that information and make the person a victim of identity theft.

TIPS

Never provide your Social Security number to anyone unless absolutely necessary.  Your utility providers do not need that information.  If you encounter someone in person from a utility company they should have photo identification and you should confirm by a telephone call that they indeed do work for the utility company before you give them access to your home and even then, do not supply personal information to these workers.

Scam of the day – May 22, 2012 – Skimmers

Recently a number of people in Iowa became victims of identity theft.  Investigating police found they had one thing in common.   They had all eaten at the same restaurant and paid by credit card.  Although the crime is still under investigation, the most likely culprit is a rogue employee who obtained the credit card numbers through the use of a small electronic device called a “skimmer.”  This device which is about the size of a deck of cards can be used by an identity thief to read all of the information on a person’s credit card.  Generally when you present your credit card for payment, the criminal will swipe the card through the skimmer as well as through the legitimate machine to process your purchase.

TIP

As much as possible keep an eye on your credit card in restaurants and stores to make sure it is not swiped through a skimmer.  Also, make sure that you carefully go through your credit card statements each month to pick up if you have become a victim of identity theft so that you can report it and have the charges removed from your card.

Scam of the day – May 21, 2012 – Evil spirit scam

Three women have been arrested this week in San Francisco in a scam that has been targeting older Chinese women in San Francisco and other major cities throughout the country with sizeable Chinese populations such as Boston and New York.  However, even though this particular scam targeted elderly Chinese women, the lessons to be learned from this type of affinity scam are for everyone.  This particular scam began when the scammers who were also had Chinese heritage approached elderly Chinese women on the streets and told them that they were plagued by evil spirits and that the only way to get rid of the evil spirits was through a purification ceremony.  They were also told that they had to bring their cash and jewelry to the ceremony to purify their belongings and protect them from the evil spirits.  The victims’ cash and jewelry was then put in a bag and when the victims were not looking the money and jewelry was taken out of the bag.  After the ceremony, the victims were told to take the bag home, but not to open the bag for a few days or the purification would not work.  By the time the victims learned they had been swindled, the scammers were long gone.  fortunately three of the scammers were arrested this week.

TIPS

We tend to trust people who are like us; people who have the same cultural heritage, race, religion or social group.  Unfortunately, “people like us” can be swindlers who take advantage of our trust.  This was what happened to many of the Jewish victims of Bernie Madoff who preyed upon many victims using their shared religion as an inducement.  Be extra careful when an investment or other offer is made to you by someone who shares an affinity with you.  Check them out as you would anyone else before doing any business with them.

Scam of the day – May 20, 2012 – Jamaican lottery scam update

On May 8th’s “scam of the day” I warned you about the Jamaican lottery scam.  For the past few years Jamaica has become a center for telemarketing scams, particularly phony lottery scams.  As usual, you are told that you have won a lottery that you never entered, but that you have to pay administrative fees or taxes in order to collect your prize.  I am happy to report that this week the efforts of a joint police effort of Jamaican and American law enforcement resulted in eight arrests and the seizure of money, jewelry, flat screen television sets and luxury cars.

TIPS

Always be wary of contests telling you that you have won contests that you have never entered.  You will not have to pay administrative fees to collect prizes from legitimate lotteries and income taxes are either deducted from your prize or you pay them directly to the IRS; they are never collected by the lottery sponsor.  It is also a good idea to be skeptical of any telemarketing offers that come from the area code of Jamaica which is 876 which has turned into a scam center.

Scam of the day – May 19, 2012 – Memorial Day scams

Memorial Day is rapidly approaching and with it will come a unique number of Memorial Day related scams.  Scammers are always timely and whatever has your attention, also has the attention of scammers, whether it is a natural disaster, the death of a celebrity or a major holiday.  In the case of Memorial Day, you can expect to be solicited by scammers by phone (remember legitimate charities can call you by phone even if you have enrolled in the Do Not Call List because it exempts charities), email or letter asking for your money for various veterans causes or charitable ventures tied to Memorial Day.

TIP

You never know who is on the other line of a telemarketing call, so never trust them.  If you are at all interested in what they are selling or soliciting, ask them to send you written materials that you can then check out to see if it is legitimate.  When it comes to charities, a good place to go is www.charitynavigator.org where you can see if a charity is legitimate or a scam as well as actually see how much of the money they collect goes toward their charitable purposes and how much towards salaries and administrative costs.

Scam of the day – May 18, 2012 – Skechers shoe scam

Skechers is a shoe manufacturer that in 2010 alone made almost a billion dollars selling fitness shoes that it claimed could help people lose weight, strengthen and tone their buttocks, legs and abdominal muscles although there is no evidence that these expensive shoes could help achieve any of these goals.  Their advertising, including ads with celebrities such as Brooke Burke and Kim Kardashian, were quite convincing.  But it was a scam.  Forty-three states and the FTC brought legal action against Skechers that ended this week with a settlement under the terms of which Skechers is agreeing to pay 40 million dollars back to consumers.  As is quite common in settlements like this, Skechers agreed to pay the substantial financial penalty, denied any wrongdoing and promised not to do it again.

TIPS

Just because a celebrity endorses a particular product and the advertisements appear in legitimate media does not mean that the product is legitimate.  Always be skeptical of any weight loss or fitness product without evidence that offers an easy solution.  If you bought a pair of these shoes, it is still too early to get your refund and beware of scammers when you do try to get your money back.  There will be scammers trying to trick you into making payments to participate in the settlement.  For legitimate information about the settlement, you can call the FTC’s Skechers Hotline at 866-325-4186 or go to the FTC’s website at www.ftc.gov.  Once the real refund information is available, we will also have it here at www.scamicide.com so check out our scam of the day every day.

Scam of the day – May 17, 2012 – Deed copy scam

There is no scam like an old scam and one that is making a new resurgence  is a scam in which you receive a call, email or letter informing you of the importance of having a copy of the deed to your home.  Often these scammers will charge you up to $90 to obtain a copy of your deed for you.  Having an actual copy of your deed is not very important once it has been recorded in the local Registry of Deeds, however it is still a good record to keep.  However, obtaining a copy of your deed on your own from your local Registry of Deeds is both simple and rarely costs more than a couple of dollars at the most.

TIP

If you get such a call, email or letter, merely ignore it.  If you want a copy of your deed, merely contact your local Registry of Deeds where you can get one for a nominal cost.

Scam of the day – May 16, 2012 – Deceptive website business scam

This week the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) obtained a court order halting North America Marketing and Associates LLC and a number of other associated individuals and companies from marketing a scam in which they promised to build websites for their victims that would permit them to earn commissions when online purchasers clicked through these websites to make purchases at major companies , such as Wal-Mart and Starbucks.  The companies also promised free marketing help which never happened.  Instead when the profits failed to materialize for the victims, the company just sold them more advertising.

TIPS

Always beware of get-rich-quick schemes, particularly ones that permit you to work from home with little effort.  Do your research about the companies and people offering you these business opportunities with the FTC, the Better Business Bureau and your state’s attorney general.  In this particular case you could also check with the companies, such as Wal-Mart that the scammers purported to have a relationship with.

Scam of the day – May 15, 2012 – FBI impersonation scam

The Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) is one of our more trusted institutions of government so people usually trust what they are told by FBI agents.  Unfortunately, too many people also trust what they are told by scammers who are merely impersonating FBI agents.  Recently there has been a large increase in scams that originate with an email purporting to be from the FBI informing the victim that they have inherited money or have won a lottery.  A good question to ask yourself at this point is why would the FBI be informing you of an inheritance or a lottery win?  The emails then direct you to another purported government agency where you run two risks.  The first risk is clicking on a link to a phony government agency that ends up with your unwittingly downloading keystroke logging malware that will steal all of the information from your computer including credit card numbers, Social Security numbers and account passwords.  The second risk is that when you go to the phony government website, you are instructed to pay various administrative fees and other fees to claim the inheritance or prize that you never get.

TIPS

Remember the FBI is not going to contact you about inheritances or lotteries.  Also, never click on links from emails, the source of which you are not absolutely sure is legitimate.  Finally, if you have any doubt, call the FBI at a number that you know is correct so that you can confirm that the email is a scam.

Scam of the day – May 14, 2012 – Infomercial scams

The Federal Trade Commission has just won a major lawsuit against infomercial marketers of real estate investment scams that stole money from a million victims who fell for the informercials misleading misinformation as to how they could become rich through real estate deals and through the Internet.  The infomercials were for “John Beck’s Free & Clear Real Estate System”, “John Alexander’s Real Estate Riches in 14 days” and “Jeff Paul’s Shortcuts to Internet Millions.”  In addition to the misleading and false claims that were made in the infomercials, the scammers did not adequatley disclose that once you paid for the system, you also were automatically enrolled in a program that charged you anew every month.

TIPS

Perhaps the most important thing to take away from this type of scam is that just because you see an advertisement on a legitimate television, cable or satellite station, hear about it on a legitimate radio station or read about it on a website or publication that is honest, you can’t automatically trust that the advertisment is legitimate. Media outlets do little if any screening for legitimacy and accuracy when it comes to their advertisers.  As always, if it sound too good to be true, it usually is.  It is always a good idea to check out the program and the history of the company behind the program independently before investing in anything.  Checking with the Better Business Bureau, the FTC and your local attorney general are good places to start your research.  And finally, always read the fine print.  Rarely is there anything fine in fine print.