They use any means to contact victims—telephone, snail mail, email, and the Internet. They gain your trust and when they have you hooked, they ask you for money; then they take it and run. The scenarios they use to lure you in change, constantly. But you can protect yourself and your friends and family by arming yourself with knowledge of the most common types of fraud.
Advanced Fees / Prepayment:You are asked to send money to pay a fee up front for a product or service
Mystery Shopping:You are contacted for an employment opportunity to send money using a money transfer service and evaluate the service
Overpayment:You receive a check for an amount higher than the agreed-upon price and are asked to send back the excess funds using money transfer, but the check is fake
Employment:You are asked to send money for a job opportunity you have accepted
Lottery / Prize:You receive notification you have won a lottery/sweepstakes and need to send money to claim the prize
Rental Property:You are interested in a rental property and asked to send money for reasons that seem legitimate, but the property is not real
Emergency / Grandparents:You are asked to send money to a friend or family member for an emergency situation
Internet Purchase:You are asked to send money to pay for a product, auction item or service advertised online
Relationship:You meet someone online, develop a relationship with them, then you are asked to send money to them
Fake Check:You receive a check and are asked to send a portion of the money back for what seems to be a legitimate reason, but the check is fake
Scammers pose as representatives from phony loan companies and use authentic-looking documents, emails, and websites to appear legitimate. They charge “fees” in advance of making loans. Consumers pay, but the loans never come through. Scammers are long gone and they sometimes regularly change the name of their “businesses” to avoid law enforcement.
This is one variation of a scam called the “advance fee” or “prepayment” scam. Scammers can also lure victims in with promises of investments or inheritance gifts in exchange for a fee. But it all comes down to the same theme: Victims pay money to someone in anticipation of receiving something of greater value and then receive little or nothing in return.
Also see Fake Check Scam.
Mystery shopping scams are popular with criminals who target employment websites. The ploy’s simple: Scammers send victims a check and tell them to use the funds to “evaluate” Western Union’s money transfer service. Victims wire the money only to find out later that the checks bounce and they’re responsible for paying the bank back.
Also see Fake Check Scam and Employment Scam.
With overpayment scams, fraudsters play the role of buyer and target consumers selling a service or product. The “buyer” sends the seller a legitimate-looking check, usually drawn on a well-known bank, for an amount higher than the agreed-upon price. They contact an explanation for this overpayment and instruct the seller to deposit the check and wire back the excess funds. Weeks later, the victim learns the check is fake, but is still on the hook to pay the bank back for any money withdrawn.
Also see Internet Purchase Scam and Fake Check Scam.
Employment scams generally start with a too-good-to-be-true offer—work from home and earn thousands of dollars a month, no experience needed—and end with consumers out of a ‘job’ and out of money. They generally follow one of three patterns:
1. Scammers pose as a new ‘employer’ and send victims a check to cover up-front expenses, like supplies. Victims deposit the check, buy the necessary supplies and wire any remaining funds back to the scammer. Weeks later, they find out the checks are fake and they’re on the hook for the entire amount.
2. Scammers pose as ‘recruiters’ pitching offers of guaranteed employment or as ‘employers’ extending job offers on the condition that victims pay up front for things like credit checks or application or recruitment fees. Victims pay, but job offers never materialize.
3. Scammers pose as ‘company’ representatives and seek sensitive personal and/or financial information from victims under the guise of doing credit or background checks. They then target victims later on for identity theft.
Also see Mystery Shopping Scam and Fake Check Scam.
Lottery or prize scams follow two similar patterns:
1. A victim gets an unsolicited phone call, email, letter or fax from someone claiming to work for a government agency or representing a well-known organization or celebrity, notifying them that they’ve won a lot of money or a prize. The scammer gains their trust and explains that, in order to collect the winnings, they first have to send a small sum of money to pay for processing fees or taxes. Following these instructions, victims immediately wire the money, but never get their “winnings.” And they’re out the money they paid for “fees and taxes.”
2. Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money, and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover processing fees or taxes. Weeks later, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but have already wired the money to cover the “taxes” and can’t get it back. And they’re on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.
Also see Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam and Fake Check Scam.
Sophisticated scammers use the Internet, and particularly free classified websites, to prey on unsuspecting real estate victims. Rental property scams generally happen in one of two ways:
1. Renters are looking for a house or an apartment to lease and get scammed by an “owner.” Victims come across a place in a great area, at a great price. The advertisement looks legitimate so they start communicating with the “owner,” generally by email. The owner says the place is theirs if they wire money to cover an application fee, security deposit, etc. They wire the money, and then never hear from the “owner” again.
2. Owners are renting out their house or apartment and get scammed by a “renter.” “Renters” contact victims, generally by email, and express interest in renting the house or apartment. Scammers send a check for the deposit but then cancel the deal. Victims wire the money back only to find out the check was a fake.
Also see Internet Purchase Scam and Fake Check Scam.
Emergency scams play off of peoples’ emotions and strong desire to help others in need. Scammers impersonate their victims and make up an urgent situation—I’ve been arrested, I’ve been mugged, I’m in the hospital—and target friends and family with urgent pleas for help, and money.
Emergency scams also come in all shapes and sizes. There’s the Grandparent Scam where con artists contact the elderly claiming to be their grandchild, urgently asking for money. And the Social Networking Scam where con artists hack into social networking profiles and then target friends with frantic requests for money, claiming injury, arrest, etc.; they do the same by hacking email profiles. They use the information in these profiles to supply enough personal detail to make their requests appear legitimate.
In the internet purchase scam, criminals prey on victims who bid on items using an online auction website or service. It generally plays out in one of two ways:
1. Victims win the bid, which is likely a sham or set up, and are told the seller only accepts money transfers for payment. The seller tells the buyer to put the transaction in a fictitious name, or the name of a loved one. Scammers convince victims this protects their money until the goods or services are received. The seller then creates a false ID in the fictitious name and retrieves the funds. The merchandise never arrives.
2. The other variation is when the original auction is legitimate but the victims don’t win the bid. They’re contacted later on by another party offering to sell them the same item under similar terms and instructed to wire the money as payment. The money is sent but the buyer never receives the goods.
Also see Overpayment Scam, Rental Property Scam and Fake Check Scam.
The relationship scam starts simply: A man and woman meet on the Internet. The relationship progresses: They email, talk on the phone, and trade pictures. And, finally, they make plans to meet, and even to get married. As the relationship gets stronger, things start to change. The man asks the woman to wire him money; he needs bus fare to visit a sick uncle. The first wire transfer is small but the requests keep coming and growing—his daughter needs emergency surgery, he needs airfare to come for a visit, etc. The payback promises are empty; the money’s gone, and so is he.
Fake checks play a starring role in lots of different scams: advance fee or prepayment scams; mystery shopping scams; lottery prize scams, and more. Victims get an unsolicited check or money order and directions to deposit the money and immediately wire a portion of it back to cover various expenses, like processing fees or taxes. Weeks later, victims learn that the checks are counterfeit, but they’ve already wired the money and can’t get it back. And they’re on the hook to pay their banks back for any money they withdrew.
Also see Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam, Mystery Shopping Scam, Employment Scam, Overpayment Scam, Internet Purchase Scam, Lottery/Prize Scam and Rental Property Scam.