Bottom Line/Personal interview on bad economy scams with Dr. Audri Lanford: Internet ScamBusters #308
Today we have another Special Issue for you — this time on
bad economy scams.
Audri was recently interviewed again by Bottom Line on how the
scammers and con artists really come out of the woodwork
during times of financial difficulties. The article appeared
in their November 2008 issue called “A Bad Economy is Good
for Scammers — Watch Out for These Super-Sneaky Cons…”
Bottom Line/Personal is a very good fee-based newsletter that
interviews experts on various topics and passes on that
information to their subscribers (we’ve been fans and
subscribers for a long time).
We asked for and received permission to share the interview
with all of you. Happy reading!
However, we think you’ll like visiting this week’s issue of
Scamlines — What’s New in Scams?
And before we begin, we encourage you to take a look at this
week’s most popular articles from our other sites:
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Another? Learn the ins and outs of bridge loans and whether you should take advantage of them.
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Let’s get started…
A Bad Economy is Good for Scammers — Watch Out for These Super-Sneaky Cons…
(Note: we split some of the paragraphs to make this article
easier to read. However, we have not changed the content at
Rising unemployment rates, sky-high fuel prices, a plunging
stock market and falling home values have landed many
Americans in difficult financial straits. This makes people
psychologically predisposed to jump at a potential solution –
without stopping to consider whether this solution is truly as
appealing as it seems.
Scams designed to take advantage of America’s current economic
Unpaid Fuel Bill
Someone claiming to be a representative from your heating-fuel
company phones you on one of the coldest days of winter.
He/she says that you didn’t pay your last bill, so the company
has no choice but to turn off your gas (or suspend your oil
He would like to be lenient, but high fuel prices have made
your unpaid bill so large that company policy requires
You protest that you paid your bill, but the representative
insists that the payment was not received. The only way you
can avoid a disruption in service is to make the payment
immediately by supplying a credit or debit card number.
The representative warns you that if you do not do this, it
will be weeks before the company can send out a technician to
restart your service.
The caller is a con man, not a heating-fuel company employee.
This is true even if caller ID says that the call is coming
from the fuel supplier. Sophisticated scammers can make caller
ID say whatever they want it to.
If you supply your credit card number, it will be used to make
unauthorized purchases. Heating companies are heavily
regulated by state governments and usually cannot suspend
customers’ service until they have sent several written
What to do: Hang up, then phone your heating-fuel provider to
confirm that your account is paid in full.
Technicians at your Home
Two technicians from your oil, gas or electric company
unexpectedly arrive on your doorstep.
They say they have reason to believe there is a minor problem
with your furnace (or gas line or some other component of your
heating or electrical system) that is causing it to burn fuel
faster than it should or causing you to be billed for more
fuel than you are using.
These technicians really are thieves. If you let them into
your house, one will distract you while the other steals from
Home owners normally are careful about whom they allow into
their homes, but anxiety over high fuel prices makes the
promise of lower heating bills too appealing for many to pass up.
What to do: If utility company technicians visit your home
when you have not arranged a service call, ask them to wait
outside (keep your door locked) while you phone the company to
double-check their story.
Do not back down even if they claim that they do not have time
to wait. While you’re making the call, the scammers most
likely will disappear, but if not, call the police.
A help-wanted email says that you can earn hundreds of dollars
per week from home in your spare time by filling out online
surveys… sorting emails for a large company… or performing
some other simple task.
Work-at-home opportunities are attractive to the millions of
Americans who have lost their jobs and to those in need of
extra cash to keep up with the rising cost of living.
Unfortunately, almost all work-at-home help-wanted emails are
If you respond, the scammers might try to…
* Convince you to buy a list of companies in search of
work-at-home employees. The list is worthless.
* Sell you a list of online survey companies that pay
participants. Even online surveys that do compensate
participants pay so little that it is generally not worth your
time or trouble.
* Ask you to pay an “application fee.” The scammer pockets your
fee. There is no job.
* Get you to reveal your Social Security number or other
personal information so they can run a background check before
hiring you. They steal your identity.
* Sell your contact information to other con men and Internet
scammers, who will try to take advantage of you.
What to do: Delete work-at-home emails. They almost always are
An ad on the Internet or elsewhere claims that your car could
be getting better mileage. All you need to do is add special
drops or tablets to the gas tank… or attach a special device
to the exhaust pipe or elsewhere.
A huge number of supposedly mileage-boosting technologies have
appeared in response to high gas prices. They usually are
worthless or worse — some actually can damage your car.
What to do: Ignore ads and emails that promise better mileage.
If there were a truly effective fuel-saving gas additive, it
would be huge news, not something promoted in Internet popup
ads and spam.
Scammers find that people having trouble paying their
mortgages are particularly desperate and thus easy prey…
A finance company representative claims that his firm can help
you save your home from foreclosure. He explains that if you
sign your home’s title over to his company, it will pay the
money that you owe and let you live in the home as a renter
until your finances improve and you can buy it back.
This company has no intention of helping you save your home.
Once you sign over the title, the company will kick you out
and sell the home.
Self-defense: Never sign your home over to anyone in an
attempt to save it from foreclosure.
This is a version of the scam above. A financial professional
claims that he can help you refinance your mortgage with
affordable terms, rescuing your home from foreclosure. He
might say that there is a special government refinancing
program designed for home owners just like you.
This person will produce a stack of complex legal documents
for you to sign and will warn you that you have to act fast
because this special mortgage refinancing program is about to
The complex legal documents you sign will not solve your
mortgage problem. Most likely, they will transfer ownership of
your house to the scammer, yet leave you responsible for
paying the mortgage.
Self-defense: Never sign legal documents related to your home
without first having them reviewed by an attorney familiar
with housing issues (ask friends and colleagues for
Be extremely wary when someone says that you must act
immediately to take advantage of a financial program.
A financial consultant offers to help you save your home from
foreclosure by negotiating with your lender. All it will cost
you is the consultant’s fee, which could be hundreds or
thousands of dollars.
The consultant pockets your fee, then sends you complicated
looking paperwork and encouraging updates from time to time to
make it appear that he is working on your behalf. He will not
actually do anything to help you save your home.
Self-defense: Do not trust anyone who calls out of the blue to
offer you help with a mortgage problem. It often is a scam.
Bottom Line/Personal interviewed Audri Lanford, PhD, cofounder and coeditor of ScamBusters.org, a Web site devoted to informing the public about scams and cons, based in Boone, North Carolina. For a free subscription to the ScamBusters E-letter, go to www.scambusters.org.
Reprinted with the permission of:
281 Tresser Blvd, 8th Floor
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Time to conclude for today — have a great week!