As we never tire of pointing out, not all scams are illegal. Take this week's main story for example, where high schoolers are fooled into paying for expensive trips believing they've been invited to the Presidential inauguration.
The trick is to mislead by implying one thing but then to put the truth in the small print.
But most deceptions are just barefaced fraud and lies, though they usually come dressed up with plausible lines -- like the ID thief who sweet-talked his victims with flowers and wine or the tale of the "Great Gas Giveaway" reported below.
These and yet another costly Nigerian overpayment con and two seasonal holiday scams, are among the tricks to be on the lookout for -- wherever you are -- reported in our latest roundup of the scam headlines.
1. High schoolers targeted in DC inauguration con
The scam: In the last issue of Scamlines, we warned of fraudsters supposedly selling tickets to the Presidential inauguration in Washington DC on January 20, when tickets -- if you can get them -- are actually free. (By the way, eBay has now pulled ads for these -- when they find them.)
Here's another scam connected with the same event: High school students all over the US receive "invitations" saying they've been selected to represent their state for the event ('for' the event, note, not 'at' it). There's usually some flannel about the victim's academic excellence.
These are marketing come-ons -- perfectly legal in most cases -- seeking money for acceptance in some lavish but meaningless program. Victims pay thousands of dollars only to receive a certificate and maybe some accommodation and the right to attend a DC celebratory event -- but not the inauguration.
The small print usually has a disclaimer saying travel and admission to the event are not included. You're on your own for those!
The solution: These schemes are thought to have pulled in tens of millions of dollars. At best, they're misleading, at worst a despicable con sent to anyone, including low-grade students.
There may be some legitimate schemes but always read the small print and ask your school or education department for help in checking out any invitations.
Bottom line: If you don't know what you did to deserve the honor, you probably didn't do anything.
2. Bank loses $170,000 in another Nigerian humdinger
The scam: Last issue we also wrote about an Oregon woman's record loss of $400,000 to a Nigerian scam. Following hard on its heels is the tale of a Kansas woman who receives what seems to be a US Treasury check for $456,000.
The sender, supposedly, is a Nigerian customs agent. She deposits the check, and withdraws $170,000, which she wires to him. A few days later the check is declared counterfeit.
The solution: Shame on the bank for paying up before establishing if the check would clear (which unfortunately is VERY common). They must have been fooled by the fact it looked so official. The woman is responsible, but she didn't have sufficient funds so the bank is out as well.
This experience serves as a warning to banks not to be fooled by appearances, and to potential victims never to send money to someone they don't know.
More on Nigerian scams here.
3. Bogus modeling deal uses overpayment trick
The scam: Staying with the theme of overpayment, here's a new twist: A model who promotes herself on several social networking sites gets an offer from a supposed agent for an assignment with a well-known magazine.
She suspects a scam but goes along with it. She's told that a photographer and studio in her town will get in touch to arrange the photo-shoot and is sent a check for $500 to cover her fee -- minus a payment she's supposed to wire back to a studio manager.
The solution: This lady suspected a scam from the outset. The wording of the message she received was clumsy and when she checked out the individual's online profile she found the same offer had gone out to several other models.
Oh yes, and the bogus agent claimed to be a woman but posted a picture of a man with his/her profile!
Beyond that, we can only repeat our warning that money you have to deduct from a received check and then wire to someone else is a scam -- about 100% of the time.
Get more information on overpayment scams here.
4. Scammer demands finder's fee for $50k delivery
The scam: Here's yet another "cute" trick to get people to part with their money on a promise of a big reward.
In St Clairsville, OH, phone callers tell their victims -- mainly seniors -- that they're entitled to a $50,000 payout, which will be delivered to their home. All they have to do is pay a "finder's fee" of $87.
It's not clear what the $50k is supposed to be for, but the caller sometimes claims to be from FedEx, which he is not.
The solution: Whoever heard of a finder's fee for this kind of thing? And anyway, the old rule applies -- if it sounds too good to be true, it usually is.
5. ID thief says it with flowers
The scam: A guy turns up on doorsteps of residents of a Sydney, Australia, suburb. He's dressed as a courier and carries flowers and bottles of wine -- supposedly a gift from someone.
They just have to sign to accept and confirm delivery, oh and then pay a small $3.50 delivery fee. But he only accepts credit or debit cards and carries a mobile swipe machine. Armed with the financial details he swipes, he then goes on a spending spree, courtesy of his victims.
The solution: Unless you pre-arranged this, never pay a courier fee for a delivery from someone you don't know. If you must pay, confirm his credentials -- ask him to wait while you make a phone check.
Phony courier fees are also used in lottery scams. See this article.
6. Giveaway was really a takeaway
The scam: And just one more "advance payment" scam to be on the look out for.
Tucson, AZ, residents receive a mailing saying they've won $300 worth of gas in a fuel promotion. They just have to send a $29.95 money order to claim their prize in the "Great Gas Giveaway."
They send their cash to a box number in California and that's the last they hear of it.
The solution: You might think it's easy to fall for this but how exactly were the victims supposed to have won? That was never clear. And, sending a cashable money order to a box number? Come on.
7. As we warned -- beware the Holiday tricksters
The scams: In our Scambusters article #311 on holiday scams, we warned that that fraudsters and con merchants would be out in force this holiday season.
Here are a couple of confirmations we've come across during the past couple of weeks:
* Holiday scam #1 -- Outside a Fayetteville, NC, Best Buy store, a man poses as an employee and offers to use his employee discount to buy gifts on the cheap for shoppers. They give him their money, he goes inside the store and then disappears!
* Holiday scam #2 -- In another parking lot, this time in Elkhart, IN, a couple of guys sell supposedly overstocked, high quality home theater equipment out the back of the van. They have a lavish display and glossy brochures but inside the boxes are cheap, trashy systems.
The solution: Don't buy in parking lots and never give money to someone you don't know on an unprovable promise that they'll save you cash.
8. Survey story fronts drugs theft
The scam: In a couple of townships around Peoria, IL, two woman posing as nursing students knock on doors and claim they're doing a health survey as part of their studies.
If this gets them into the victim's house, one of the women then asks to visit the bathroom where she steals any prescription drugs she can find.
The solution: This is a simple trick. The scammers were looking for prescription pain killers which are addictive and have a high street value. Don't let people into your home you don't know unless they can prove 110% that they are who they say they are and unless it makes sense to let them in.
In our book, whether it's a theft from a medicine cabinet, a phony sale in a parking lot, a misleading marketing ploy or any of the other stories reported in our round up -- they all fall into the category of dirty tricks.
By always being skeptical -- and always reading the small print -- you can minimize your chances of becoming a victim.