Some of our haul of 8 new scams could qualify this week as "Crazy Scams Week" after a spate of outrageous tricks. In one case, a conman sells a church; in another a scammer claims to be a Native American Chief raising money for his stranded son.
Weirdest of all, a Vietnamese man falls for a claim that a liquid mixed with his money will double its value. And there's more, as you'll find out in our roundup below.
Also this week, as the promise of summer brings the threat of rising gasoline prices, the Federal Trade Commission warns of a new flood of spams on ways to save fuel. Let's start there.
1. Save your money -- don't buy these "savers"
The scam: Traditionally, upcoming Memorial Day Weekend fires the start pistol for summer gas price hikes -- and for an avalanche of spam, offering potions, pellets, gadgets and a handful of tricks that are supposed to raise fuel efficiency and save us money.
Some of them claim they use secrets the oil companies already know but want to keep from us. Most of them are phony, and the rest simply don't live up to the claims, producing only a tiny fraction of the claimed mileage improvements.
The solution: If these things really worked, why would the sellers need to use spam?
Lydia Parnes, director of the FTC's Bureau of Consumer Protection says: "The fact is that many products that claim to save fuel don't work and, worse yet, may damage your car and end up costing you more."
The real solution? Take a look at our tips here on 16 suggestions for saving money on gas prices.
2. I won -- you pay
The scam: An interesting twist on the lottery win scam. In Santa Cruz, CA, a conman claims he won $5 million but needs $30,000 to collect his prize.
He offers his 74-year-old victim, whom he met in the street, a $1 million share of the winnings if he can provide the cash for him to make his claim. The victim goes to his bank, withdraws and hands over $10,000. That's enough for the conman, who swiftly disappears with the cash.
The solution: As with any scam of this type, never hand over money now for a greater amount that will supposedly be paid later.
Scammers target gullible seniors, so, if you know someone who might fall for this trick, please warn them. For more information about lottery scams, go here.
3. The case of the stolen church
The scam: In Brooklyn, NY, a parishioner draws up a set of false deeds claiming ownership of the Free Mission Action Movement Church, then sells the building to a property developer. Remarkably, it was the second time he'd done it!
First time around, he confessed to the church and cancelled the scam. This time, though, he went through with the ruse and now the property developer is suing the church and the title company, claiming ownership.
The solution: We hear that most of the responsibility lies with local government to clean up its act. In this case, the New York City Register doesn't check deeds that are filed with them for authenticity. You can also make a regular free check on the deeds for any home or property you own.
4. Sun sets on phony Chief Sunrise
The scam: In an elaborate con, a man claiming to be K'atlodeeche First Nation Chief Alex Sunrise, contacts a charter airline boss begging for money to fly his son from Vancouver to the Hay River Reserve in Canada's North West Territories.
The story is that other members of the family died in an accident at the reserve and the Chief desperately needs to get his son back. Then, to add authenticity, he promises he will charter aircraft to fly in more family for a grieving ceremony. But there's been no accident and the real Chief Sunrise did not make the call.
The solution: This scam shows how carefully the con merchants plan their attack. They even contacted the airline earlier to get key names and other research.
No matter how plausible a plea for help sounds, always check it out independently -- as the airline did in this case, but only after a warning from someone else.
5. Double your kroner? Not likely
The scam: It sounds almost too outrageous to believe, but in Oslo, Norway, a scammer convinces a Vietnamese man that immersing 180,000 worth of kroner (about $35,000) in a liquid, along with some blank currency paper, will double his money.
The victim leaves his money with the conman, which, of course, is the last he sees of it.
The solution: Yes, what was that "solution"? Can we get hold of a bottle? ;-)
We only make light of it because the alleged scammer was caught trying to leave the country with the money and the victim got his money back.
We also wrote about a "dirty money" scam in Scamlines 3.
6. A notebook is a notebook, right?
The scam: A Dallas, TX, man sells boxes supposedly containing refurbished laptop/notebook computers, after demo-ing the real thing to his victims.
The boxes are sealed and feel about the right weight but the only notebook they contain is an empty ring binder, plus stacks of newspaper to make the weight. One victim bought 10 of them.
The solution: This method is a favorite trick of con artists -- showing victims a genuine item for sale, then handing over a dud.
You shouldn't buy anything from someone you don't know who approaches you "out of the blue" as this guy did. But if you're tempted -- always open the box and test the item.
7. Surrogate scammer gets six month confinement
The scam: A Greenwood, SC, woman advertises her willingness to be a surrogate mother and collects $1,000 deposits from couples desperate to have their own child.
She uses a false identity and address, and collects more than $14,000 before she's rumbled and brought to justice.
The solution: The woman has just been jailed for six months and ordered to repay the money.
If you need the services of a surrogate mother, use a legitimate agency. If you are tempted to work with an individual, carefully check out their credentials.
8. No salvation for TV seller
The scam: An otherwise wary San Jose, CA, guy gets taken in when the buyer of his for-sale TV claims to be from the Salvation Army. The scammer even presents a business card that lists him as an activities director with the charity.
He hands over a supposed Salvation Army check for $850 and sends some "colleagues" to collect the 42-inch set. The check is a worthless forgery.
The solution: Tell me the old, old story. Never accept at face value a claim -- or a business card -- that supposedly identifies an individual. And never accept a check from someone you don't know.
This week's stories underline the fact that successful scams depend on two things: trust and gullibility. These scams could have happened anywhere -- including your neighborhood.
If you know someone who, maybe through age or personality, is particularly trusting, do them a favor: alert them -- and point them to Scambusters.org.