Ah, remember the good old days when scams were perpetrated in person and you didn't have to fear answering your telephone, replying to an email or trying to fix an alleged computer problem? This high-tech world we now live in has opened the door to the unscrupulous. The anonymity of the modern day scammer leaves very little possibility that these dishonest opportunists will ever get caught or that losses will ever be recouped.
*It Could Never Happen to You
Dave C. thought the deal was great, and seeing as the caller ID gave the name of the local cable company, how could he go wrong? He was offered six free months of service in exchange for paying three months' worth of bills using an Amazon gift card. Dave made the payment and copied down the confirmation number. Imagine his surprise when the company called a month later to tell him his account was past due. When he told his story and gave the confirmation number, it turned out that the number was invalid and the company had never offered the deal.
The loss amounted to approximately $300. "The people who do this are smart," said Dave. He was unaware that scammers could illegally port phone numbers and could pose as legitimate businesses. "Listen to your gut and watch out for any red flags." He admits he didn't feel comfortable about using a gift card for payment, because they are untraceable.
Maggie R. had another encounter with a scammer. Her husband advertised a car in a popular internet listing and received a response almost immediately from a buyer halfway across the country. The buyer sent them a check in the mail. Maggie wondered why the amount was $1,000 more than the car was sold for, and was told that was an error, as the extra money was supposed to go to the shipper who was going to drive the car to the buyer. The buyer asked Maggie to send the shipper the $1,000 via Western Union.
Maggie thought she was being sufficiently cautious and said she would do so after the bank deposited the funds in her account. Five days later, seeing the money in her account, she made a withdrawal and sent $1,000 via Western Union to the name and address she was given. A day later, the entire amount of the buyer's check was withdrawn from their bank account. What Maggie hadn't known was that it could take weeks for a fraudulent check to be discovered and the bank had the right to take the money back.
Unlike Dave, they went to the police and were informed there was no way to trace the money. A year later, the police called to inform them that the scammer had been found, but it would be at their expense to go out of state to file a complaint, and there was no guarantee that the money would ever be returned. They didn't pursue it.
*A Few Scams to Watch Out For
--The grandparent scam. There's a late night phone call from someone posing as a relative or close friend, claiming to need emergency money because of an arrest, hospitalization or simply being stranded. The caller asks for gift card numbers and adds the "please don't tell my parents" plea. Always get details and know that gift cards are never a valid form of payment.
--The IRS scam. The caller claims to be with the IRS and tells the victim he is going to be arrested. The IRS will not call by phone to demand immediate payment, nor will they ask for checking for credit card numbers over the phone. Taxpayers who legitimately owe money will always be given a chance to appeal.
--Tech support scams. A stranger calls claiming to be with a major tech company saying malware has been detected on your computer and they need you to allow remote access to fix it. Hang up and call the company or your own tech support yourself. Never give remote access or passwords to a stranger.
If a scammer has victimized you, notify your local law enforcement and any banks or agencies where your information might have been compromised.