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.
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