Scam of the day – December 26, 2014 – Nanny scam

We are now in the midst of the Winter vacation period between the Fall and the Spring semesters at colleges and universities around the country with many college students looking for part-time work as nannies and babysitters.  Many college students use legitimate websites such as care.com to look for nanny and baby sitting job opportunities.  Rebecca Holgreen recently answered a posting on care.com in which a family indicated they were moving from Australia to Chicago and needed the services of a nanny.  Rebecca responded to the advertisement and was sent a check for $1,850 and told to use the money to buy groceries and other items for the family’s home, keep $400 for herself and exchange the rest for Green Dot Money Pack cards.   She was told to email the account numbers for the cards to the family.  You may be able to have guessed how this story ends.  Of course, the check was a counterfeit one although it appeared to have been cleared by the bank before Rebecca made her purchases and sent the rest of the money back to the scammers by turning over to them the account numbers for the Green Dot Money Pack cards purchased with what turned out to be Rebecca’s money from her own checking account.  Despite her best efforts to contact the family, she never was able to make contact with them after the check bounced.

TIPS

This is just another variation on the scam whereby the victim, for whatever purposes receives a check in excess of the amount to paid to the victim and asks the victim to send back the difference.  There are a number of tell tale signs to look for and steps to take to avoid this type of scam.  First, you need to remember that although a check may appear to have been cleared by your bank after a few days, all you are really getting is “provisional credit” and when the counterfeit check eventually bounces, the credit is taken back from your account and you are left having sent your own money to the scammer.  It is also important to note that merely because you are dealing with a legitimate website such as care.com, no website is able to completely guarantee that every posting on it is legitimate.  Sending excess funds back to someone using prepaid money cards is another tell tale sign of a possible scam.  Scammers use these cards because they are all but impossible to trace and once the information from the card has been provided to the scammer, the victim is out of luck.  The prudent thing to do when being paid by a check is to wait until the check has fully cleared before you can feel confident that the funds actually are in your account.  This may take a few weeks.

Scam of the day – November 13, 2014 – Walmart mystery shopper scam

In a new incarnation of an old scam, people are opening mail to find a check that appears to be from Walmart.  In one recent instance, the check was for $1,991.62.   In other instances, the amounts have been as high as $5,000.   The letter accompanying the check requests the person receiving the check to become a mystery for Walmart and instructs the person to deposit the check, shop at Walmart, keep the goods they are requested to shop for and wire the balance of the check back to Walmart.

The mystery shopper scam is a tried and true scam that scammers still use to steal their victims’ money because the scam still works. The scam begins when you are contacted by mail or email purportedly by a company asking you if you want a job as a mystery shopper who will be paid to shop at their store and then report on the shopping experience to assist in market research and improving customer relations.  The pitch sounds legitimate and often the emails and letters appear to be legitimate although it is easy to counterfeit a company’s logo and stationary.  You are asked to deposit the check into your checking account and use the money to make purchases that you are allowed to keep.  You are then instructed to send the remaining funds back to the company.  Some victims, believing they were being careful deposited the check and thinking that they were being exceedingly careful, waited a few days for the check to clear.   They then wire the funds, as requested back to the company only to learn a few days later that the certified check sent to them was a counterfeit and their bank had only given them provisional credit for the check into their account.  Once the check is found to be a fake, the provisional credit is removed from the victim’s account and the victim has lost the money that he or she wired to the scammer.

TIP

One reason why this scam works so well is that there really are mystery shopping jobs although the actual number is quite few and they do not go looking for you.  If you want to find out if a mystery shopping company is legitimate, you can contact the Mystery Shopping Providers Association which is a trade organization of legitimate mystery shopping companies.  Their website is www.mysteryshop.org.  Other indications that you are involved with a scam is when you receive a check for more than what is owed you and you are asked to wire the difference back to the sender.  This is the basis of many scams.  Whenever you receive a check, wait for you bank to tell you that the check has fully cleared before you consider the funds as actually being in your account.  Don’t rely on provisional credit and never accept a check for more than what is owed with the intention to send back the rest.  That is always a scam.  Also be wary whenever you are asked to wire funds because this is a common theme in many scams because it is difficult to trace and impossible to stop.  The particular Walmart mystery shopper scam presently done also has another telltale flaw.  The counterfeit check is from Wachovia Bank which was taken over by Wells Fargo six years ago and does not issue checks any longer under the name of Wachovia Bank.

Scam of the day – September 9, 2014 – Nigerian gangs use Craigslist for scams

In a paper to be presented later this month at the IEEE eCrime Research Summit in Birmingham, Alabama researchers Damon McCoy and Jackie Jones of George Mason University will disclose how they uncovered a group of five Nigerian gangs, who with the cooperation of accomplices in the United States re using Craigslist advertisements to scam people selling goods on Craigslist.  The method used by these gangs is one that I have warned you about many times in the past.  It starts when the scammers answer a legitimate advertisement and then send what appears to be a certified check in excess of the amount owed for the purchase.  The scammer then asks that the goods be sent to an address in the United States and the money from the certified check in excess of the purchase price be wired by Western Union to a person designated by the scammer in the United States.  Of course, the check is a forgery, albeit an often excellent forgery.  Sometimes the victims think they are being prudent by waiting a few days for the funds to be deemed available by their bank without realizing that they are only receiving provisional credit for the funds represented by the check and that once the check bounces and determined to be a forgery, the amount of the check is removed from the victim’s account who now has lost not just the money wired to the scammer, but also the goods that they have already shipped.

TIPS

Craiglist can work well if you take proper precautions.  The primary rule if you are a seller is to never accept any payment other than cash in a face to face meeting at which the item is exchanged for the cash.  Phony certified checks in excess of the purchase amount is a common scam, however, you should never accept any check.  Banks will appear to clear a check after a few days and it will look like the funds have been deposited into your account, but you have only received temporary, provisional credit which, once the check proves to be counterfeit will be removed from your account.

Scam of the day – July 18, 2014 – Facebook lottery scam

Lottery scams are one of the most common scams and with good reason.  They are effective.  Scammers will notify people that they have won a lottery and then often inform the victim that they need to pay administrative fees or income taxes in order to claim their prize.  Other times they will actually be sent what appears to be a certified check and told to deposit into their checking account and then send the administrative fees back to the lottery sponsor.  In all of these phony lotteries there is no prize.  Even when you are provided with a certified check, it is counterfeit and will bounce, but not until you have already sent your check or wired money to the scammer.  Recently many people including a woman in North Carolina received a friend request on Facebook from someone claiming that they are a Facebook administrator and telling the victim that they had won a Facebook lottery.  All they had to do in order to claim their prize was to wire  funds, in the case of the North Carolina woman, it was $350 to the lottery sponsor.  She sent the money as do other victims, but none of them ever received a dime.

TIPS

You will never win a lottery you did not enter so when you are informed that you have won a lottery that you have not entered, you should be extremely skeptical.  In addition, legitimate lotteries never ask you for administrative fees or income tax payments in order to claim your prize.  In regard to income tax payments, although lottery winnings are subject to income taxes, either the lottery sponsor deducts your taxes before giving you your  money or it pays you the full amount and you are responsible for paying the IRS.  Legitimate lotteries never collect taxes for the IRS.  As for phony certified checks, you should remember that when you deposit a check, your bank will give you provisional credit after a few days, which may look like the check has cleared.  But it is not.  And when  a counterfeit check later bounces, the funds are removed from your account.  Facebook’s extreme popularity makes it a fertile target for scammers so be wary of people that you do not know asking to be your friends.

Scam of the day – July 29, 2013 – Car wrap scams

We have all seen car wraps which are advertisements for a company wrapped around a car.  For someone looking for some money for very little effort, this may seem like a match made in heaven.  But if you are not careful, it could be a match made in scam hell.  One way scammers exploit legitimate advertising through car wraps is by either putting an ad on the Internet or contacting you through a mass email in which they seek people to have their car’s used for advertising through this technique called shrink wrapping.  Unsuspecting victims respond to the advertisement and are sent a check for actually more than the amount that the victim is owed.  The victim is instructed to deposit the check in his or her bank account and wire the rest back to the company.  This is where the scam comes in.  The check that the scammer sends you is a counterfeit and bogus.  Unfortunately, the money that you wire the scammer comes right out of your bank account and is almost impossible to retrieve.  This scam of sending you a check for more than what you are to be paid is used in many other scam variations.

TIPS

Always be wary if someone asks you to wire money to them as a part of a business transaction.  Scammers do this all the time because it is quick and almost impossible to stop.  In addition, even if you get what appears to be a certified check and wait a few days for the check to clear, you will still be out of luck because it takes weeks for a check to fully clear.  What your bank does is only give you conditional credit after a few days, which means that if the check turns out to be a counterfeit, the credit is removed from your account and if you have, in turn, made checks of your own, counting on the check being legitimate, you are out of luck and money.  A check sent to you by someone with whom you are doing business for whatever purpose that is more than the amount you are owed that comes with a request for you to send the overpayment amount back is a scam.  Don’t fall for it.