Loan Scams

In desperate times people often let their guard down, which provides a lethal combination for scammers offering loans to people even if they have poor credit.  You may get a solicitation for the loan through an email or you may even see it in legitimate media, but you should always beware.  Just because an advertisement for a loan appears in a legitimate newspaper or other media does not mean that the loan offering has been investigated for legitimacy by the media carrying the advertisement.  In fact, in difficult financial times when advertising dollars are hard to come by, the standards of media for taking advertisement seem to drop.

You may be surprised at how fast your sham loan is approved.  All you have to do is to send in an advance processing fee and you are on your way to financial stability.  Unfortunately, the loan is a scam and you end up more in debt when you pay for a worthless loan.

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Legitimate lenders rarely ask for advance fees.  They usually deduct fees from the loan amount.  Check with your state’s attorney general or the FTC if you have questions about an unfamiliar lender.  And if the loan requires an advance fee, don’t do it.  Chances are it is a scam.  Also, even if you don’t have to pay an advance fee, always be sure the lender is legitimate before you provide any information such as your Social Security number which could be going to an identity thief who is merely using the promise of a loan as a ruse to obtain personal information from you.

Unclaimed Property Scam

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.

Natural Disaster Scams

Natural disasters, be they hurricanes, tsunamis, tornadoes, wildfires or floods are fodder for the most vile of scammers who take advantage of both the victims of these disasters and people who wish to make charitable donations to the victims of charities.  The scammers take advantage of those people already victimized by posing as government agency employees or insurance adjusters.  In the process of their interviewing the victims, they request personal identifying information, such as Social Security numbers and then use this information to make the victims of the natural disaster victims of the unnatural disaster of identity theft.  The scammers take advantage of people wishing to donate to the victims of natural disasters through phony charities.

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If you are a victim, you must confirm the identity of anyone who contacts you purporting to be from a governmental agency or insurance company.  Do not give out any information until you have checked them out by contacting the actual agency or insurance company that they claim to represent.

As for charitable donations, go to www.charitynavigator.org and check out the charity to see if it is legitimate and while you are there, you may wish to check on the amount of the money gathered by the particular charity that actually goes toward their charitable purposes and how much goes to administrative costs and salaries.  A reputable charity should not pay more than between 25 and 35% to salaries and administrative expenses.  Additionally, if you are contacted by someone soliciting on behalf of a legitimate charity, you should be aware that as much as 80% of what is collected by professional charity solicitors goes to the actual charity for which they may be soliciting.  If you are inclined to donate to the charity, you may wish to consider donating directly to be confident that more of your donation actually is going to benefit the charity to which you wish to donate.

Voter Registration Fraud

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

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

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.

Nigerian Letter

Although it may seem as if this scam only began in earnest with the invention of email, in fact, the scam itself is just a variation of a scam that is more than four hundred years old when it was called the Spanish Prisoner Con.  At that time a letter was sent to the targeted victim purportedly from someone on behalf of a wealthy aristocrat who was imprisoned in Spain under a false name.  The identity of the nobleman was not revealed for security reasons, but the victim was asked to help raise money to obtain the release of the aristocrat, who, it was promised, would reward the money-contributing victim with great sums of money and, in some versions of the con, the Spanish prisoner’s beautiful daughter in marriage.

In the more recent incarnations of this scam, you receive an email in which you are promised great sums of money if you assist a Nigerian in his effort to transfer money out of his country.  Other variations include the movement of embezzled funds by corrupt officials, a dying gentleman who wants to make charitable gifts or a minor bank official who is trying to move the money of deceased foreigners out of his bank without the government taking it.  Similar scams have managed to keep up with the news by having the money to be moved tied to fallen dictators such as Sadaam Hussein or Moamar Khadaffi.

What all of these scams have in common is that soon after agreeing to help, you learn that money is needed to be sent by you for lawyer fees, bribes, insurance and other costs.  The reward is always just around the corner and the fees keep mounting.

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There are a number of ways to confirm that the email you are receiving is a scam including a careful review of the email address, however, you do not need to even go that far in your considerations.  Although you may want to open the email (so long as you do not click on to any links) for sheer entertainment purposes, all of these scenarios are scams.  Just ask yourself, why are you being singled out for this email?  You are not.  The emails are sent out all over the Internet.  Don’t be a victim.  Do not respond to the email in any fashion.  If you do, you will be hounded.

What is a Ponzi Scheme?

It worked for Charles Ponzi, it worked many years later for Bernie Madoff and it still works today.  This scam is as profitable as it is simple.  It is a classic pyramid scheme whereby you are promised returns that may appear too good to be true (and indeed that is the case), but you know of investors who have made incredible profits by investing with the scam artist.  The problem is that the money used to pay off early investors does not come from successful investing, but rather by paying the early investors with the money of later investors.  Usually there are no investments at all.

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If you are retaining the services of an investment advisor, make sure he or she is not acting both as your broker investment advisor and also the broker dealer.  By giving this kind of control of your money to a single person, you enhance the possibility of fraud.  Also, never invest in anything you do not truly understand.  This rule was broken by many intelligent people who invested with Bernie Madoff although they did not understand how his investment strategy worked.  Anyone who actually carefully evaluated Madoff’s investment strategy and the returns it provided would be able to see that it was a scam.

What is the Hitman Scam?

This scam keeps reoccurring around the country and people still are falling victim to it.  It starts when you receive an email from a purported hit man who informs you that he has been hired by someone you know to kill you.  However, the hit man then tells you that he will refrain from killing you if you pay him a sum of money.  In the past the amount has ranged from $80,000 to $150,000.  Not only is this a scam, but the FBI has traced many of these emails to Eastern Europe, far from where you may live.

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If you get one of these emails contact the FBI and the Internet Crime Complain Center at www.ic3.gov.

What is Smishing?

Smishing is similar to phishing on your computer, but this time the scammers message comes as a text message on your cell phone.  Often it comes purportedly from your bank telling you that your account has been frozen and then asks you to provide personal information or your account will be frozen.  Smishing is also used by scammers, particularly during the holidays to appear to provide free coupons or free coupons.

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Never respond to a smishing message.  By so doing you only succeed in telling the scammer that you are out there.  Never provide personal information in response to a text message from anyone.  If you believe the message may be legitimate, contact the entity at a telephone number or website that you know is accurate.  Don’t download coupons from emails or text messages.  Again, if you think it may be legitimate, go to the website of the company that you know is legitimate and download the coupons there.