Crooks want your money, but 27 News has got you covered.
They're coming up with clever and deceiving tricks, especially thanks to the growth of the internet, social networking websites, and online classifieds.
But many of their scams fall into the same patterns we've seen time after time.
We're maintaining this running list of the "Most Common Scams" - don't fall for one. If you want to add something, send an email to 27 News Call for Action Reporter Dan Cassuto.
Money Transfer Scam
Never wire someone you don't know money. This is the mother of all internet scams and is one of the oldest tricks in the book. We're listing it first because so many other scams are built around this scam's basic foundation. Money transfer and wire service scams pop up mostly on online classified websites or as part of other money, banking, shopping, or financial transactions. It's very simple. Someone asks you to wire them money, and they disappear. Why do so many people fall for it? Because crooks disguise the scam in clever and intriguing ways. Sometimes it's part of a mystery shopper program, or a laptop purchase on Craigslist, or a foreign lottery payment. Crooks often send you a check and ask you to wire them a portion of the money in return. Their check will always turn out to be fake. By the time your bank catches the fake check, it'll be too late to get your money back. If anyone asks you to wire money to a foreign country, for any reason, it'll turn out to be a scam 99.9% of the time.
Foreign Bank/Hidden Money Scam
You get an email or phone call from someone claiming they have millions of dollars in an overseas bank account. The story sounds so glamorous. They need your help to claim the money, usually because they say they don't have access to the funds. They ask you to use your own bank account and they promise you a cut of the cash. The scammers usually give some long explanation for how they found the money: a death in the family, undiscovered funds, unclaimed diamonds, etc. Don't listen. It's nonsense. Some variations of this scam ask you to transfer money from your bank account to theirs as an upfront payment. Others ask you to wire money. Still others promise to send you a check, and then ask you to pay back everything except your cut. Whatever variation you see, it's not for real. The check will be fake, but your bank won't know that until the money has been deposited into your account and you've already sent the money elsewhere. You'll still be on the hook for the money - see the fake check scam later on this page.
Foreign Lotto Scam
Here's another classic. You get an email claiming you won a foreign lottery you didn't even realize you entered. Sometimes this is a money transfer scam, other times it's an identity theft scam. The crook might ask for your social security number or credit card. Or they might want you to transfer money as an upfront payment, deposit, or tax charge.
Needy Grandchild Scam
Here's a relatively new trick. Crooks are calling elderly people and pretending to be their grandchildren. The crooks disguise their voice, talk extremely fast, or call from loud places so the elderly victim is overwhelmed and believes it's actually their relative. The caller pretends he/she is stuck in a foreign country or facing some other imaginary emergency. Sure enough, they ask the elderly victim to transfer money (see "Money Transfer Scam"!). This has been reported in several areas in Wisconsin, including, most recently, Monroe.
Fake Check Scam
Banks are required to cash checks even before they know they're real. This law keeps the banking system functioning. Customers can get funds from checks immediately, instead of waiting ten days for the bank to validated the note. That would throw off rent and bill payments everywhere. The problem is this law also allows crooks to pass fake checks and cost victims thousands of dollars in personal savings. The fake check scam takes many forms, but it always involves a scammer sending you a check and asking you to send them money in return. For instance, crooks may want to use a check to pay for your Craigslist items, and want you to wire them a portion of the money in return. (Re-read the wire transfer scam above.) It seems like it's safe, because your bank deposits the check's amount into your account. It's there for you to spend. The problem is - in ten days, the bank discovers the check was bogus. But you're still on the hook for the money. If you didn't spend it, no problem. But the scam always involves some sort of immediate payment or wire transfer to the criminal. You won't ever get the money back, and you'll be forced to pay the bank for its losses. You are responsible for the bogus check!
Be wary of emails or unsolicited offers promising new credit cards, free products, product-testing, or mystery shopping deals in exchange for an upfront fee to participate.
Fake Legitimate Websites
It's worth noting how common this is becoming. Criminals create their own versions of real websites, such as PayPal, FedEx, MoneyGram, or American Express. It can be any company. They use the fake websites to ask for personal information, financial documents, or trick victims into believing certain information to validate other scams they're running. This is extremely hard to catch because the fake websites generally look very real. Of course, you can always spot a fake website by looking at the address bar. If it just says numbers (the IP address) or some other wacky name, you're not browsing the real website. The fake websites are usually just portions of the real website - for example, the page that asks for your credit card number. The links can be real, they may take you to the official website. You can protect yourself by being extremely suspicious of links from emails, web bulletin boards, online classified websites, and other unvalidated sources.
Fake Legitimate Websites - Online Classifieds
We've seen this problem on online classified websites. Scammers send you a link to a shipping company's website where it talks about Escrow services and shipping rates. They trick you into believing they're legit, and then they ask for your credit card number or ask you to wire them money. In some cases, the fake websites are used solely to make you think the scammer is honest. They want to build trust to ask you to wire money - never wire someone you don't know money.
Employment/Job Search Scam
Many crooks are taking advantage of the sour economy and tough job market to find victims. Like many scams we see, this also takes some different forms. Be skeptical of any emails offering you job opportunities or interviews with companies you never contacted. Don't pay for job interviews and don't fall for "fake legitimate websites."
Hotmail/Free Email Scam
These emails tell you to reactivate your account and ask for personal information. They may also use fake legitimate-looking websites. Be careful of links in emails from people you don't know.