Smarter Scams, New Victims Every Day

frowny face

My “grandson” and I talked for a full several minutes before I determined he was no one I knew. Despite a few clues – my grandchildren don’t call me “Grandma,” his voice could have been the 21-year-old I hadn’t seen in nearly a year, but it wasn’t perfect – I found the caller convincing enough to trade three or four questions and answers before I hung up the phone.

“Grandson” never got around to the pitch. I want to believe I would never have fallen for a story that would separate me from several thousand dollars, but I surely could have. Today’s scammers – especially those preying on seniors or the socially isolated – are incredibly skilled.

One very smart senior in the San Francisco Bay Area was recently taken in by a call from a fake grandson – and had the courage to tell the story to the local newspaper. Retired physician/author Walter Bortz, who has a real and well-loved grandson, listened with shock and sorrow to an entirely plausible tale that wound up costing him $5,000. The “grandson” told of having had too much drink the night before, of drugs found in the cab he unfortunately took, going to jail, getting beaten up and having his nose broken. Then he gave the phone to a “police officer” who explained how bail could be arranged……..

Elements of the scam – eloquently told to local reporters by the victim – are widely used. The “relative” is often caught up in an arrest involving drugs and/or guns (through no fault of his or her own) and often in another state or country. The need is always urgent, to avoid some terrible consequence like jail time or to cover medical expenses. Transactions are made through prepaid cards available almost everywhere today. Once cashed, the money is impossible to trace.

It’s the meanness of these scams that is almost as bad as the financial loss. Rose, a young businesswoman, tells of her own grandmother getting a call from someone pretending to be Rose and spilling out a tale of disaster that had her grandmother frightened and sobbing. Long after the ruse was uncovered and explained – “I was calling my grandmother, saying, ‘Look! I’m here at my desk. I’m sending you a photo! ’” – the targeted victim was still in distress over the fears she had had for her beloved granddaughter.

JoAnn (a pseudonym,) a friend of this writer in Louisiana, fell victim – almost – to one of the oldest scams around. It began with an official-looking notice of her having won a Canadian lottery. JoAnn lives alone and has withdrawn from friends – but she plays the lottery; she thought one of her tickets had paid off. The notification included a “Certified check” for her seven-figure winnings. All she had to do was deposit the check, wire $1,279 to cover out-of-state taxes, and live in luxury. JoAnn was saved by an alert teller who had not seen her come into the local bank for a long time. The teller began asking questions about the sender, and JoAnn finally told her about winning the lottery. “If you don’t mind,” the teller said, “let me see if this check clears before you do anything further.”

My friend suffered not from financial loss but from the embarrassment factor. JoAnn was in tears by the time she got through telling the story over the phone. “How foolish did I look?” she said. “Suppose word gets around that I fell for such a thing. I have a PhD, for heaven’s sake.” The teller turned everything over to federal agents and it’s highly unlikely that word got around.

But word should get around. Bortz deserves high praise for going public, proving that no one is exempt from the possibility of being scammed. “I like to think that I am worldly wise,” he told The Almanac, “(and yet) I got snookered into this one. But I guess it shows that I’m a nice grandfather.”

Nice grandfathers, and grandmothers, and gentle people everywhere, are being targeted today. The Federal Trade Commission has a fairly complete list of current scams, and how to deal with them, on its Consumer Information page.

The schemes are old, the twists are new, the advice is age-old and two-fold: (a) Keep asking questions; and (b) If it seems too good (or even bad) to be true, it probably is.

Scams & other seasonal delights

On the face of it, the check that came in today’s mail looked pretty good. It was drawn on JP Morgan Chase — can we still trust JP Morgan Chase? — and it came from that famous Processing Center in Nashville, site of countless refund checks for drug store coupon purchases. It was for $8.25, which will buy a couple of lattes. I live in a coupon-clipping household (if you were born in 1933, this is what you do) and really like lattes — and $8.25 is no small potatoes anyway.

In not-too-small print on the back, though, was a message: By cashing this check I agree to a thirty-day trial offer in XxxxGuard (names are changed here to protect the presumably innocent, or at least legal.)

Uh oh. I understand that the $13.99 monthly fee will be automatically charged to the credit card I have on file with Xxxx (a rental car company I occasionally use) unless I cancel my membership by calling 1-866-622-5186 (number not changed, in case you want to call and harrass them) before the end of the trial period.

Did I authorize Xxxx to be so generous with my credit information? Gaily offering to share it with XxxxGuard?   I understand that after my first year I will be charged $14.99 a month for the next 12 months and I will also be charged every month thereafter at the then-current monthly fee, unless I call to cancel and owe nothing further.

It gets worse. I authorize Xxxx (the rental car folks) to securely (well, thanks for the security) transfer my payment information to XxxxGuard for enrollment, billing and benefit processing and I authorize XxxxGuard to charge the monthly membership fee after my thirty-day trial.

You have to wonder what percentage of people endorse and cash these checks, and what percentage of that group didn’t pay close attention. What will we get for our $14.99 monthly fee? Two percent cash back on credit card (that card Xxxx has on file) new purchases, on the first $5,000. Having done my brain exercises (see post below), I can run those numbers.

If there are enough mystery people who actually buy from telemarketers to make it profitable for them to keep calling my number incessantly, there must also be gullible people who cash the $8.25 check and keep schemes like this one going. Paying close attention is wise these days.

And I think I’ll get my next rental car from another company.

Who In The World Falls For These Scams?

I just received a fascinating e-mail from Mr. Michael Jones, who addressed me as his Dear Friend, and identified himself as director of his “bank here in the UK.” Mr. Jones was eager to share 30% of the nine million eight hundred pound windfall he had just uncovered… you can fill in the rest. What impressed me the most with Mr. Jones’ kind letter was the fact that there were at least one or two grammatical, spelling or otherwise glaring errors per sentence. I mean, don’t these guys know about Spellcheck?

The whole thing was ridiculous enough for me to want to RSVP, but I resisted that temptation. I simultaneously wanted to Do Something, but my husband assured me the old Nigerian e-mail scam is bigger than I am and it’s not likely I will be able to stop it.

Do people really fall for these things? It must happen. Somebody, I also presume, buys mortgages from telemarketers or they wouldn’t call me up 15 times a day. However, surfing around for more on Mr. Jones and his colleagues I was happy to discover a website that is way ahead of me:

Nigerian scam artists have wised up to the fact that many of us no longer get taken in by the Nigerian email scam from phony government or bank officials offering to split multi-million dollar fortunes or inheritances, or Nigerian scams involving forged overpayment checks that require us to send untraceable money-wires back to them.

So, they’ve developed new ways to try to convince us that their money-grubbing cons are really genuine.

New variations of the so-called Nigerian 419 scam (named for the section of the Nigerian constitution that deals with this crime) appear almost weekly.

Some of them are pretty clever. But with the right degree of healthy skepticism, you can still see through them.

We’ve got the low-down on three new tricks (or variations of existing Nigerian scams) to help you spot them.


After bogus checks, prepare for forged cash.

Those checks that came with letters telling us we’d won a lottery or had been selected to become mystery shoppers are so yesterday.

Today’s Nigerian scammers try to convince us with the “real” thing — $100 bills.

In a new trick, seen for the first time in Kansas in April this year, a scammer sent $3,000 worth of forged bills to a man and asked him to use it to buy a Moneygram.

The victim had been corresponding by email supposedly with a woman in Nigeria. He received the “cash” from a person claiming to be the woman’s uncle, who asked him to send the Moneygram to her so she could come to the US.

He fell for it, but the forgery was spotted at the Moneygram office.

A few days later, a Nevada man tried the same thing, after receiving $3,000 of forged notes. He was told he could keep $500 and tried to buy a $2,500 Moneygram with the remainder.

Action: Watch out for more of these tricks in the coming months. Bluntly, never send Moneygrams on behalf of someone you don’t know, whether you receive cash or a check.

I’m glad to know there’s somebody out there watching. I think I’ll pass on Mr. Jones’ offer.

via 8 Cunning New Nigerian Scams Aim to Convince You They’re Real.