The Checkout

Scams, Scams and More Scams

It's not like I'm trying to write about scams. Really. But I can't help it. At least once a day I get a call or e-mail with another scam alert. Here are two recent alerts worth sharing. Unlike many scams I've written about, these do not involve the Internet.

The first alert--about mystery shoppers--comes from Arkansas Attorney General Mike Beebe. Beebe says many such offers are bogus on their face. Sure, the promise of getting paid to shop is alluring, but Beebe said, the reality is far less glamorous. "Most mystery-shopping jobs pay little, if any, money, involve a lot of paperwork and are very hard to get in the first place." And most shoppers don't get to keep the merchandise they buy. "Even legitimate mystery-shopping organizations may charge consumers up-front fees for training and certification, and there are scores of bogus companies that offer empty promises of securing consumers mystery-shopping jobs in exchange for money."

But a new twist has developed, he says, that makes this scam more devious and that could cost consumers thousands of dollars. Consumers are asked to test the effectiveness of a money-wiring service. They are sent cashier checks and told to cash them and keep a small percentage of the money as their commission before wiring the rest to a foreign destination. The problem is the original cashier's check is counterfeit but doesn't bounce until the money has already been wired out of the country.

Beebe offers solid advice for anyone who receives cashier checks with a request to cash it and wire some of the money to another destination. "You can be assured that the offer is a scam and the check is a forgery." Now some of you may be scratching your heads, saying this is so obvious, it's amazing that there has to be an alert about cashier checks. But believe me, I've heard about more people getting snookered from phony cashier checks in the past few weeks that even saying this every day would be insufficient.

The second scam alert comes from GEICO. It's an old scam--phony accidents in parking lots--but the insurance company recently issued an alert after seeing a lot of fraudulent claims. This scheme has two variations. In one, the perpetrator is in a car; as another car pulls out of a space, the perpetrator pulls up and waves to the driver to continue backing up. The driver does so--and the perpetrator moves forward and intentionally strikes the car. Then, the perpetrator will deny waving you out.

In the second variation, the perpetrator is a pedestrian who approaches a car as it is backing out, then falls to the ground to make the driver think he/she hit the pedestrian. No injuries are visible but the perpetrator will complain of injuries. Sometimes, the perpetrator will say he/she has no money or health insurance and ask the driver to drive them to a nearby ATM machine for some money. GEICO's field supervisor for its special investigation, Mike McClary, said people really do this. He added that the elderly are vulnerable targets for this scam because the perpetrator threatens to call the police, and the elderly driver is afraid he/she will lose his/her license.

"Be guided by your common sense," McClary said. "If you ever have a question about whether an accident is legitimate or not, call the police."

Even as I write this entry, I get another alert, this one from a Charlottesville reader who got a solicitation for the local high school sports program, seeking money for "football posters" for the local football team. The caller even said the program was authorized by the local school system's athletic director, mentioning him by name. Suspicious, the reader hung up and called the director, who, not surprisingly, said he knew of no such campaign. Turns out the Central Kentucky Better Business Bureau wrote about this scam four years ago. The reader says he supposes the scamsters "characters have been hibernating...or recently released from jail."

Bottom line: Be on your guard all the time.

By  |  March 8, 2006; 10:25 AM ET Consumer Alerts
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Please email us to report offensive comments.

With respect to the fraudulent accidents scenarios, always call the police. You can even pretend to call the police because usually scammers don't want any record of it having happened and introducing the police makes everything much more serious.


Posted by: jim | March 8, 2006 10:36 AM

The "mystery shopper" offer really hit home. I clicked a link like this once and my computer became so infected with spyware that I had to re-format the hard drive to get ride of it all. Instead of becoming a mystery shopper, it was no mystery why I suddenly began getting *one hundred* spam email notes a day.

The mystery shopper link was on a trusted site, so beware: just because an ad shows up on your news site or email ISP does not mean that it is not loaded with bad news.

I've learned my lesson in a very painful way and will never click an ad again. If I want that product or service, I'll go to its site and request it.

Posted by: Pam | March 8, 2006 12:11 PM

I was a victim of a fraudulent acccident scheme in the parking lot of a Costco. I am a very careful driver and scrupulous about backing up. Anyway, I was pulling out of a space at Costco and all of a sudden a woman appeared behind my car screaming "You kill me." First, since she was standing up and yelling I had my doubts that she was severely injured. Second, I didn't even feel the car touch anything-she just came out of nowhere. She looked like a gypsy. As I said, she was standing up and not apparently injured, wasn't holding a limb or pointing to any part of her anatomy or in apparent pain.

I thought I was being set up, so I just drove away. I know I could have been charged with leaving the scene of an accident but I was 100% sure it was a scam and sure enough, I never heard a thing. If the woman had even pretended to be injured I wouldn't have taken off.

Posted by: Nancy | March 8, 2006 12:50 PM

My son got a "Mystery Shopper" scam letter, exactly as described. The checks were from a bank in Mass., but the letter wanted the money wired to Winnipeg. I called the Winnipeg number and ended up talking with a guy with an extremely thick Russian accent.

These scams seem to be seeded thru internet links displaying recently graduated HS students. Another check scam is the suddenly appearing envelope with nothing but a check. The check is bogus, but if cashed, the cancelled check will be routed thru the issuing bank (In this case it was a Lockheed Employees Credit Union in LA) where the scammer, or a confederate, is working in the cancelled checks dept. and they get the check sent from your bank. Complete with you acct number. If its free, it ain't.

Oh yes, we notified the Lockheed ECU, but they really didn't care.

Posted by: Cosmic | March 8, 2006 4:27 PM

Recently, I've become a Junk-Mail Refusenik.

I've begun my own new campaign against letter spam and misleading offers from credit card issuers and phony, official-looking junk mailers:


When you receive yet another (groan!) letter from a credit card company, bank, or other snail-mail spammer, simply use an orange or red Sharpie and x-through your name and address print REFUSED in big letters above it, circle the sender's name and address and print RETURN TO SENDER in large, easy-to-read letters to the right of the address.

In fact, I'm so into my new Junk Refusenik thing, I'm buying a packet of white blank stick-on labels and having a cheap stamp made that quickly and easily reads REFUSED --RETURN TO SENDER. The label gets pasted over my name and address.

Put this on ALL your junk mail -- the Post Office is required to return it and the original sender is required to pay for it.

If Junk Refusenik takes off -- maybe -- just maybe -- the junk mailers will start to get the message. They may even remove you from their list. It costs them more money and it's money they can't afford to waste.

Regardless, it's a fun way to "Stick It To The Junk Mailers."

In the last six months, I've begun to see a change -- about one-third less junk mail.

Try It !!

Posted by: Doc Chapman | March 9, 2006 6:21 AM

Refusenik! I've been doing it for years. It works. Glad to know it's catching on. Victoria's Secret used to send me at least 2 magazines per week, not to mention, Spiegel, Eddie Bauer, etc. I sent them all back. I have not received their magazines since 1990's.

Posted by: mh map | March 9, 2006 1:08 PM

it is rediculus

Posted by: harley | March 9, 2006 6:03 PM

it is rediculus

Posted by: harley | March 9, 2006 6:03 PM

I see this stuff every day as a LEO. Best bet- anything too good to be true is and if it's got origins overseas- it's probably a scam.
Other good websites about scams:

Posted by: MD | March 10, 2006 2:19 PM


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