We all know the saying "All that glitters is not gold" but that doesn't stop scammers from pretending it is. This week we have two stories from the headlines about scammers passing off fake coins and gold-colored bars as the real thing.
Sadly, as some of our stories show, plenty of people fall for even the simplest and most obvious tricks. Many of these cons have been around for years and regularly feature in our weekly Scambusters article topics. Others show great cunning, like the scammers who passed themselves off as a monk stranded in Canada!
1. My place or yours? Neither!
The scam: In Belfast, Northern Ireland, scammers copy online ads for rental apartments and repost them on another legitimate site, listing a different phone number. As usually happens in this type of scam, would-be renters, who may even have checked out the apartment externally, are then told to send the first and last month's rental to get the key.
The solution: Ask to inspect a house or apartment before you rent. A scammer is unlikely to have a key. If still in doubt, ask to see proof of ownership. If it's a vacation rental, check out the owner's credentials.
2. Patently a fraud
The scam: A variation on the domain registration scam. Usually, you receive an official-looking notification asking you to pay a fee for re-registering your Internet domain name. This time, the pay-up demand goes to owners of patents, whose names are harvested from publicly available patent lists. The letter requests an official registration fee.
The solution: Call the patent office (or your patent lawyer if you have one) to check. For more information about domain name registration scams, check out these Scambusters articles on domain registration scams.
3. The future looks bleak
The scam: A Hebron, DE, woman claiming to be a psychic and fortune teller, gets chatting to a store cashier, tells her vaguely of things that have happened in the victim's past, then asks for money for news about her future. The scammer also asks for the victim's name, date of birth and cell phone number.
The victim later visits the home of the "psychic" who tells the victim her family has been cursed and she must pay almost $60,000 to get the curse removed. She pays up from a recent inheritance, but later tries to get her money back -- without success.
The solution: Whether you believe in fortune tellers is your business, but suspect anyone who merely approaches you with an offer like this. And never give personal details to a stranger in this kind of situation.
Paying a fee for a reading or consultation is one thing, but handing over such a large sum of money is crazy. This "psychic" has been arrested and charged with felony theft. We covered this in Issue 255 on psychic scams.
4. Spring scamming spree
The scam: Spring brings out the home repair scammers in full force, says the Better Business Bureau. They report a woman in Elkhart, IN, who's approached by a conman saying he's spotted a fallen brick from the victim's chimney. He shows her a brick (which is really his own) and offers to do the repair, for which, of course, he charges her. A neighbor later inspects the chimney and finds there's no damage -- and no repair.
The solution: Unless you know the individual or business, always check them out before agreeing to work. If they're legit, they won't mind. You can find a lot more about this scam in this week's issue on scam contractors, and more about home improvement scams more generally in this issue as well.
5. Jamaica's the new lottery hotspot
The scam: Jamaica seems to have become the new hotspot for lottery scams and it's amazing they find no shortage of victims, especially among the elderly. Latest is a 90 year old man from Augusta, GA, who wires $24,000 worth of moneygrams to Jamaican scammers who tell him he's won a huge first prize. The demands start off small at first but when the scammers realize he's hooked they ask for bigger and bigger "processing fees."
The solution: First, it's illegal for Americans to participate in overseas lotteries. Second, if you didn't enter, you didn't win. Third, if you are ever lucky enough to win a lottery, you won't have to pay to collect your prize. Read more about foreign lottery scams here.
6. Monkey business with monk's mailbox
The scam: Hackers get into the mailbox of a Benedictine monk in Scotland, steal his email address book then send all his contacts a sob story about him being robbed and left penniless on a visit to Canada. The scammers ask for money so he can get back to Scotland.
The solution: Use security software to protect your email and confidential information, and to stop your address book being hijacked. And always check out money requests that seem to come from friends by contacting them to confirm before you send any money.
7. All that glitters scam #1
The scam: In Covina, CA, a scammer opens a conversation to get friendly with her victim then offers two gold-colored metal bars for sale, saying she desperately needs the money. A passerby, who turns out to be an accomplice, stops and buys one of the bars for $360, returning a few minutes later to say he's already sold it on for $600. The victim falls for it and hands over $360 for another bar, which, of course, is worthless.
The solution: This qualifies for this week's TGTBT (Too Good To Be True) award. Never buy anything allegedly precious from someone who solicits in this way.
8. All that glitters scam #2
The scam: A businessman offers and sells rare antique coins to collectors from his shop in Mulberry, FL. The coins turn out to be forgeries and the seller is arrested.
The solution: Even collectors find it hard to spot forgeries, especially when they're sold from a legitimate shop. If buying from a dealer you don't know, buy only one item and have it expertly appraised before buying any more. Go here for more info on how to avoid rare coin scams.
Conmen con men more!
The bad news (for men): Men are a softer touch than women when it comes to online scams, says a new report. A study by British-based Crime Claim Center says men lost more than 1-1/2 times as much as women in online fraud during 2007.
The organization, which fielded 206,000 complaints, lets them off the hook though by saying the real reason is probably because men tend to buy more big ticket items than women. The value of reported online scams in 2007 jumped to £120 million from just £20 million the previous year. We reported on a similar study in the US recently (in the second item on this page about AdWord scams).
Have you encountered any of this week's scams yet? If not, sooner or later they're going to come your way. Don't let your guard down -- and stay tuned to Scamlines to learn about all the latest tricks.