Thieves continue to use the Internet, mail system and phone service to steal millions from unsuspecting victims across the nation.
Most of the thieves masquerade as legitimate businesses and ask consumers to send money via such hard-to-trace methods as Western Union, MoneyGram or Green Dot MoneyPaks. Other times, a consumer may be asked to mail money directly to a scammer in another country or to an associate within the United States.
The message should be loud and clear: Never, ever send money to somebody you don’t know or somebody you recently met online, regardless of the reason they give you. Never give your bank account information or a Green Dot MoneyPak access number to anyone unless you are absolutely sure you know exactly who you are dealing with and it’s for a legitimate transaction.
Many of the most notorious scams have operated for years. Among the most common:
- Advance Fee Loan Scam. Typically, this scheme targets a consumer with poor credit who either applies online for a loan or receives a phone call offering a loan. The scam company may have a professional-looking website and a contract that looks legitimate. It may even use the name or address of a real company. But after the consumer sends an advance fee (usually for “insurance” or a “processing” fee), no loan is forthcoming. The scam company usually vanishes within a few days or weeks and then re-starts under a new name.
- Sweepstakes Scam. In this scheme, the thief mails an official-looking, but phony, announcement proclaiming that the recipient has won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter says the money or prizes will be delivered as soon as the winner pays taxes or other fees – again, often through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak. The scammer is counting on the recipient to deposit the fake check into his or her bank account and then send the fees in real money. Too often, the “winner” discovers too late that he or she has been duped and there is no sweepstakes.
- Secret Shopping or Work at Home Scam. In this scam, a business that appears legitimate offers a job seeker a chance to earn money as a secret shopper, shopping various stores and services and reporting the findings back to the company. In most cases, the company mails a legitimate looking check, instructing the recipient to keep a portion of the money and use the rest to “shop” businesses such as Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart. Almost always, instructions also call for the recipient to use most of the cash to “shop” MoneyGram or Western Union by sending a large portion of the check through one of those businesses to an out-of-town recipient.
- Craigslist Scam. Although these can take several forms, the most common involves a scammer who responds to a consumer’s offer on Craigslist to sell an item or service. The thief typically sends payment in the form of a phony check, claiming that a family member or associate accidentally has overpaid and then requests a partial refund by MoneyGram or Western Union. It is only after sending the refund that the consumer realizes he or she has been scammed.
- Romance Scam. Avoid sending money in any form to someone you have spoken with only online. If an email “friend” asks you for money – for any reason – it is probably a scam.