Archives for January 2012

TIMESHARE PROGRAMS ARE NOT A ROSE GARDEN!

Looking for an inexpensive trip for a well-deserved special getaway for fun and relaxation? If your answer is YES, and some “nice” person sold you a bucket of dreams on timeshares—be really, really careful— many of these programs are not for the faint of heart! You could become just another sucker with a one-way ticket to oblivion and fraud—-not paradise as advertised.

Here are some rules you should follow if you want to jump into the thorny bramble bushes of timeshare programs:

1. Stick with the larger, well established companies that have been around for many years. These guys will not go into the deep water to skewer you.

2. Fully understand any contact or agreement you are provided BEFORE you sign or fork over one red cent.

3. Be careful if the contract/agreement makes it virtually impossible for you to sell your timeshare in the event you may wish to do so. Again, you must fully understand the rights and obligations of anything you sign.

4. Be especially cautious of overseas companies offering timeshares.

5. DO NOT pay up front fees before doing all possible due-diligence and investigations. If possible, review the contracts with a competent lawyer.

6. Review the published consumer “Black Lists” on the internet that detail the companies who have engaged in timeshare fraud. Keep in mind that newer scam timeshare companies may not be on these lists, because no one has yet reported them.

7. “The game may not be worth the candle”! Becoming a victim of timeshare fraud is a very distasteful and expensive mistake. Being alert and conducting solid research/due diligence will help you avoid heartache and being  swindled.

8. See firsthand exactly what you are buying into. Try to do this in person or through a reliable friend. Do not rely on glossy brochures or videos as many of them are outright con-games. You may hope a dream and arrive to a nightmare. Remember Scamraiders constant reminder—“If it is too good to be true— it is!” Always!

Scamraiders has looked at many timeshare “Vacation Clubs”. To us the safest looks like the Disney Vacation Club and coming in second is the Hilton Grand Vacations. It’s better to be safe than sorry—stay with the best and most reliable. In any event, DO YOUR HOMEWORK—-BEFORE YOU PUT PEN TO PAPER OR YOU HANDOVER YOUR CASH.

IF YOU HAVENT GOT A GENIE IN A BOTTLE THEN YOU WILL WANT THE NEXT BEST—MAMA’S MESSAGE IN A BOTTLE

One of our Staff members came to us excited as a kid in a toy store. The guy was recently introduced to a fantastic product. THE TALKING BABY BOTTLE.

Yes— a talking baby bottle, and it works. With this novel invention every Mom can be with their child while they are at their office, shopping or traveling miles away.

This Special product is product safe, simple to use and easy to handle. We have attached to this Report that will be released on Scams Inc Home Page on 1-30-12, the Video and web Site relating to this much needed invention that the creators have received a Patent from the US Patent Office.

What is great about this fantastic item is that the child will hear the mothers actual voice while mom is working and baby is feeding.

The product is planned be mass marketed as a yet undisclosed price but we are told it will be more than reasonable and based on what we see aught to be in every home of mothers who work.

Interviews with pediatric doctors confirm that this Talking Baby Bottle product can be of important assistance to the babys development. The child has the comfort of listening to mom’s ‘soothing-voice’ while she is miles away.

So take a few minutes and watch the YouTube Video of the ‘Talking-Baby-Bottle’ and review the web-site ‘Mama’s Message in a Bottle’—-both of which we attach Links at the conclusion of this Report when posted on ths Scams Inc Home Page on Jan. 30, 2012—–stay tuned–

Mama’s Message in a Bottle – Official Website

Mama’s Message in a Bottle – YouTube Video

USED CAR SCAMS – STEALS ON WHEELS

Money is tight for many these days, but one expense most are not able to live without is an automobile. Used cars are an acceptable cost-conscious solution and with the recession in full swing many Americans are turning down this avenue. According to a CNW Marketing Research study, nearly 4 million used cars were purchased in the month of May alone. That number was up 23% from April, and continued rising through the year. In contrast, new car sales were down 34% for that same period.

Purchasing a used car through the big dealerships often means a drastic reduction in the savings they used car buyers are hoping to achieve. This means delving into a world of used car-specific lots, classified newspaper or local magazine ads, and online listings. As with any journey into a world without major corporate presence, the chances of finding yourself face-to-face with a wily scammer are drastically increased.

Here are a few types of scams these con artists are currently pulling along with some ideas on how to avoid them:

ONLINE PURCHASING – This type of scam has existed for years. With our nation’s recent growth of dependence in online car shopping and the easy communication it provides, this racket has only grown in recent years.

An ad for a great deal on a used car pops up online. After a back-and-forth email conversation with the seller, the potential buyer learns that the car is actually located in another town or state. The seller then offers to drive the car down to the buyer, free of charge, if payment is made in advance (perhaps even just a percentage of the final agreement).

The victim wires money for the car and then waits for the new set of wheels to come rolling down the street on the agreed upon date. Of course, the day comes and goes and no new car arrives. There is also no reply from the seller who quickly vanishes. The car never existed, except for in the ad, and the potential buyer has lost whatever monies were sent in good faith.

Scamraiders wrote about a more recent version of this scam briefly in a previous article about Military-themed cons. Since it still seems to be on the rise, the facts bear repeating.

Many scammers are posing as soldiers or family of military members looking to sell cars quickly and cheaply before deployment to Iraq or Afghanistan. The con uses the same basic set-up as above, but with the extra addition of the patriotic plucking of our heartstrings.

The FBI issued an alert for similar “Patriot” act of fraud last year, after discovering a scheme in which a scammer posed as the father of a soldier killed in Iraq whose story had recently run in the local paper. Offering to sell an $80,000 book-valued BMW online for $2,800, the ad included pictures of the fallen soldier in uniform (scanned from the article in the paper) and the car which he supposedly owned, as well as an explanation for the price. Claiming to be the man’s father, the scammer said he was offering it at such a low price as a gift to his son’s memory and just wanted to find someone who would love and cherish the vehicle as his son had before leaving for the war.

A family of another local man who was killed with the soldier in the ad alerted the local authorities upon seeing it. The soldier in the ad had never actually owned a car, and the ad had not been placed by his father. The scammer was never found.

If you are buying online, either through an advertisement, listing or auction site, remember this:

Stay local. This is the only way to make sure the car actually exists and it wouldn’t be a bad idea to take it for a test drive.

Call. Don’t rely on emails to do your business. This makes it way too easy for a potential con artist to disappear and never be heard from again and nearly impossible to track down.

Never wire money. There is no need to wire money for a car. Requests to do so, particularly before you have even seen the vehicle in question, are quite likely a scam.

Use CarFax. If shopping online get the vehicle identification number (VIN) from a copy of the car’s vehicle title and registration. Use to VIN to run a check and ensure its existence, location, accident and repair history.

BUYING STOLEN CARS – Law enforcement officials have recently reported a new trend in VIN cloning which could lead to the purchase of a stolen car.

As mentioned above, the VIN, or vehicle registration number, is the unique number used to identify individual cars. As well as providing a history of the cars aches and pains, it is also a tool used by police in tracking a car down when its been stolen. Thieves are now cloning these numbers from other cars that are not stolen and using them to replace the original VIN on the dash of the stolen autos. They also recreate legitimate-looking fake title and registration documents featuring the new VIN. Then it’s only a matter of placing the ads online or in the local classified and waiting for a buyer.

When a CarFax report is requested, it comes back looking clean because it’s actually been run for the VIN of another car that has not been stolen. CarFax released numbers which stating that of the 1.5 million cars stolen every year, as many as 225,000 are subject to VIN cloning.

Here are some tips to avoid VIN cloned cars:

Use caution if offered a late model SUV or luxury car at significantly less than market price.

Don’t feel pressured if seller is pushing to close the deal quickly. Follow through.

Check the VIN number on the dashboard, inside the door jamb and under the hood against the provided VIN in the title and registration. Look for any discrepancies, often when faked; only the dashboard and title documents have been forged.

If you have any questions, obtain a comprehensive vehicle history report.

If you later think your car might have a cloned VIN, being mailed notices for unpaid parking tickets is a strong indicator according to the FBI, contact local law enforcement immediately.

ODOMETER FRAUD – By creating the illusion that a car has substantially lower mileage than it actually does, a seller can then charge thousands of more dollars than the used auto’s actual worth. Called “rolling back” or “spinning” the odometer, this practice normally takes 30,000 off the life of the car in question. According to AAA, the difference in savings when purchasing a car at 70,000 miles versus 40,000 miles is about $3,600. With about half a million used cars odometers being tampered with yearly, the cost comes out to about $4 billion in yearly losses for consumers according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

The scammers then get new titles for the vehicle from the DMV, while lying about the mileage. This “title washing” allows them to sell the cars with the rolled back odometers and have the paperwork backing up the fraud. To avoid detection, they are normally careful to roll back the numbers just far enough that they are not below the last recorded readings from the previous DMV registration.

Here are some red flags to look for regarding odometer fraud:

Before buying get the actual title and registration, as opposed to a copy. A brand new, or out-of-state, title might indicate “title washing”.

Missing screws around the dashboard, or strange scruffs and scrapes, could be a sign of a spun odometer.

Some electronic odometers will display an asterisk by the number if it has been changed.

If the odometer numbers are not lined up straight, it could be an indicator of fraud.

Inspect the car for service records, oil change stickers or inspection certificates. They can tell a truer story of the car’s history than a spun odometer, and scammers often miss these items.

Problems with the suspension, steering and engine are all signs of high mileage, as are brand new tires and emission problems. Have a trusted mechanic inspect the car and estimate the amount of wear and tear.

If it seems too good to be true, it probably is. Most folks aren’t giving away commodities as valuable as cars these days. If you are considering buying used, be sure to practice your due diligence and keep your eyes out for the scams as stated in this article. Good luck finding the perfect set of wheels and happy driving.

LINKS

CarFax – to check on a potential used car purchase
http://www.carfax.com/

WORK-AT-HOME SCAMS: BIG PROMISES, BIG CON

Times are tough. The unemployment rolls continue to swell. Businesses are cutting back hours and salaries. New jobs just aren’t there. Those unlucky enough to find their lives affected by the economic crisis are looking for new avenues of income. Unfortunately, the current situation is a boon for those looking to exploit the folks who are often in the most desperate of situations. One of the most popular methods for separating the susceptible from what little money they have left – the work-at-home scam.

The FTC recently stated that over 2.4 million individuals fell victim to these schemes in the period studied. This does not include the unreported incidents. Although many of these scams have been around for years, the internet has once again proven to be an expansive new horizon for criminals. The Technology Chronicles noted that between February and March of 2009 spam emails trying to take advantage of those looking for work increased by at least 500%. Yes, five-hundred percent. And there are no signs of this current trend slowing.

While there are legitimate businesses out there offering work-at-home opportunities, they are few and far between. If you find yourself in any of the following situations, realize you are most likely falling victim to some of the most popular work-at-home scams:

Stuffing Envelopes – This one has been around since before the Great Depression, and is currently making a strong comeback. You’ve probably seen the ads online, gotten spam emails, or seen flyers posted around your community. They proclaim something along the lines of, “Earn $500 weekly stuffing envelopes – work only 2 hours a day from home!” When you answer these ads, you will often be asked to pay for instructions that ask you to shell out further money for advertising, materials such as the envelopes you’ll soon be stuffing, and postage. In the end you will find that all you are selling, these envelopes you are stuffing, are simply the very same ad and instructions on the chain scam you answered. The only way to make money is by fleecing others, just as you have been fooled.

Advanced Fee Assembly Business – Another scam that has been around for years. This promises high wages for assembling crafts at home. Of course, before you get started you will need to send the company a lump sum, normally $50 – $100, for a starter kit. You get the kit, assemble the provided materials and send them back to the company and wait for payment. Unfortunately, whatever you send back will not meet the company’s “standards.” They keep the money you sent for the starter kit and move on to the next victim.

Processing Medical Bills – These ads promise large weekly earnings for what sounds like a legitimate business practice, handling the billing for doctors, dentists, and other medical care providers in your area. The start-up fee required is much higher than envelope stuffing or craft assembly, as you are pushed to buy computer software, training sessions and a list of potential local offices in need of your services. Sounds almost like starting a legitimate business, right? Wrong. The list provided is bogus, the information out-of-date or fabricated. In fact, most medical offices do their billing in-house or outsource to large, dedicated processing centers. You are out several hundred dollars.

Make Money With Your Computer – The ads read, “Turn your computer into a money-making machine.” This is just another, up-to-date, variation on the envelope stuffing scam. You pay upfront fees for an information disk that suggests you advertise online and then make of copy of the disk you are currently reading and mail it off to those poor suckers who are duped into answering your ad. You’re out the costs of materials, advertising and postage. The only way to recoup any of your investment is if there are others out there equally gullible.

MLM vs. Pyramid Schemes – When practiced by reputable companies, like AMWAY or Mary Kay, multi-level marketing can be a legitimate way to engage in direct selling from your home. Often times though, there are shady businesses presenting themselves as legit MLMs which are actually plain pyramid schemes. You’ll know the difference because there won’t be any products to sell, or the products for sale will be mentioned in passing, but they will strongly push recruitment. If you are being asked to pay a fee and then expected to recruit more folks who will then pay you, well, that’s a pyramid scheme. After you’ve paid your fee (or bought all of your “promotional” materials) and recruited your friends and family members you quickly find the pyramid falls apart. The only folks who have made any money are the criminals who started the whole illegal endeavor.

Mystery Shopper – The ad recruits you as a “mystery shopper.” The victim is provided with a local store or wire transfer company and then given a task, often a list of items to be purchased and then mailed back to the “employer”. A hefty check is included with the list. The check is supposed to be cashed immediately and then used to cover payment of the requested items, postage and a small fee for the shopper as payment. Of course, after cashing the check and completing the “shopping”, the victim discovers the check was counterfeit. You owe the bank the entire amount plus fees, while the criminal walks with a box of freshly bought items that he can re-sell.

Working for the Criminals – Many criminals are taking advantage of folks looking for work-at-home and will attempt to recruit them as unwitting launderers. Told they are a US-based agent, they are then asked to receive and reship checks, merchandise and even solicit potential victims…never clueing in that its simply a front which leaves little trail back to the actual crooks.

Paying for Lists – Less involved, but still costly, some companies offer lists of potential work-at-home jobs, or offer advice via their telephone hotline. Of course, it’s a 1-900 phone number playing a worthless recording or the list you pay good money for simply directs you to any number of the exact same schemes you just read about above. Save your money and your time.

These are just a few of the scams out there taking money from those who are looking to work-at-home.

The Better Business Bureau offers the following signs of a work-at-home scammer:

They will never offer regular salaried employment.

Promises of huge profits and big part-time earnings.

The use of personal testimonials by unnamed, untraceable sources.
Payment for instructions/merchandise before telling you how the plan operates.

Guaranteed markets and promises of huge demand for your work.

Tell you no experience is necessary.

Be smart. Practice diligence, even if you feel desperate. Times are tough, it’s true. But there is no such thing as quick and easy money, especially when it comes from a spam email or a flyer on a telephone post. Remember, if the promises sound too good to be true, someone’s probably trying to con you.

Helpful Links:

To check on a company with the Better Business Bureau:
http://www.bbb.org/us/Find-Business-Reviews/

To file a complaint in English or Spanish with the Federal Trade Commission:

https://www.ftccomplaintassistant.gov/

or call 1-877-382-4357

1-800-FLOWERS, AOL SCAM

This is yet another email scam that you should be aware of, should it ever land in your inbox. The fraudulent email will look something like this:

Dear AOL Member,
There has been a purchase added to your AOL account on December 22, 2009. This purchase took place at 1-800-Flowers.com. If this order was unauthorized and you would like to cancel, please CLICK HERE. Below is listed information about your order:

Product – Timeless Love Rose Bouquet
2 Dozen Long-Stem Roses
Price – $29.99
Shipment Type – 3-5 Day Ground
Shipping and Handling – $7.99
Total Price – $37.98

This scam startles it’s victims into thinking their credit card has been charged, but also offers a convenient “click here” to fix the problem. Using the 1-800-Flowers.com name is a trick, to make the email seem legitimate. In fact, 1-800-Flowers has nothing to do with this scam, and no order has been placed. The hope of the scammer is that this email will scare people into “clicking here” to “cancel the order”. Actually, clicking the link provided will take the user to a website that will trick them into giving up their personal information, and will walk them through a process that will end with a harmful program being downloaded onto their personal computers.

When asked about this scam, AOL provided the following statement:

You should always remember, for a mail to be official, all three attributes – the blue envelope icon, the blue, border, and the AOL seal – must be present. And as always, AOL staff will never ask for your password or billing information.

The email you have received was not an Official AOL Mail. It is a scam disguised and an e-mail announcing that you have ordered some Flowers from 1-800-Flowers.com.

The hyperlink [contained in the e-mail message] leads to a Web page that asks you to either enter your screen name and password, or download files to your computer. If you enter information, it is sent to the scammer who can then sign on to your AOL account, read your e-mail, or violate AOL’s Terms of Service and eventually cause your account to be terminated. Files you have downloaded from these Web sites contain computer viruses or Trojan Horse programs that have been designed to steal your AOL password.

If you should have any additional questions regarding online security and was to learn more about features AOL offers to help you have a secure online experience, please go to Keyword: AOL Neighborhood Watch.

Please remember that no e-mail from AOL will ask you for your password or billing information or contain links that take you to sites requesting that information.

CRASH CONS – STAGED AUTO ACCIDENTS ON THE RISE

A recent report says that car accidents staged by scammers in an effort to collect fraudulent insurance claims are on the rise. These bogus wrecks affect all car owners’ insurance rates and can lead to a large increase in the premium rates for those unlucky enough to be an unwilling participant in these well-planned crashes.

A report was released on May 10, 2010 by the National Insurance Crime Bureau which showed that questionable claims from staged accidents increased 46% from 2007 to 2009. The report points out the top five states for staged accident questionable claims: Florida, New York, California, Texas and Illinois.

The Federal Bureau of Investigation notes that staged accidents defraud insurance companies of about $20 billion annually. This loss gets passed onto the consumers in the form of higher insurance rates, about $200 – $300 per car.

The innocent victims who are successfully targeted by these staged auto accidents can expect their own insurance premiums to rise anywhere from 10% to 40% depending on their carrier’s surcharge rate schedule.

The National Insurance Crime Bureau says, “Staged accidents are dangerous criminal events that target innocent drivers with increasingly bold schemes aimed at defrauding insurance companies out of millions of dollars. Unless someone becomes suspicious, many of these staged accidents go undetected.”

The scammers normally work in large groups to stage the accidents. The scam car will normally be loaded with passengers, each of whom will make their own false medical claim with the victim’s insurance company for the amount of about $10,000. Whiplash or other soft tissue complaints will be “verified” by sleazy doctors, physical therapists or chiropractors who are in on the scam. Crooked auto repair mechanics will often be involved to inflate the reported damage to the victim’s insurance company.

Late last month over 32 suspects were arrested and additional warrants issued for 22 others when the Hillsborough County Sheriff’s office cracked down on a highly organized auto insurance scam ring in Florida. Along with the scammers posing as both drivers and passengers, employees from two different medical clinics in Hillsborough County were also arrested for being involved in the scam.

Here are some of the top scams that are being used by those fraudsters practicing staged auto accidents:

SWOOP AND SQUAT
The car loaded with passengers will swoop in front of the victim and quickly break thus causing a rear-end collision. The driver and passengers of the scam car will complain of various aches and pains, either back or neck issues in particular. These complaints will come even if the accident happened at low speeds. The driver and passengers will then each make large injury claims against the victim’s auto insurance policy.

DRIVE DOWN
While the victim is trying to merge in traffic, or pull out of a parking spot, a nearby scammer will slow down and wave to the victim encouraging them to proceed. After next crashing into the victim’s car, the scammer will deny ever giving consent with a wave and blame the accident on the victim.

SIDESWIPE
Caution should be taken when driving the inside lane of a dual left-turn lane at a busy intersection. Cars that drift into the outer lane while turning are often then rammed by scammers.

SHADY ASSISTANCE
Whether in an honest accident or the victim of a staged auto accident, there are scammers will approach potential victims at a crash site or phone them shortly thereafter. These strangers will often try to convince the victims to visit a specific auto body parts store, chiropractor or recommend a lawyer who might help sue for injuries. Beware of this “friendly advice”. Often this is a set-up for bogus auto shops that fraudulently pad their bills, chiropractors or doctors who give poor or no treatment or ambulance-chasing lawyers who encourage the victim to sue the insurance companies for thousand of dollars even when there is no solid case.

The Coalition Against Insurance Fraud offers these tips to avoid being the victim of a staged auto accident gang:

— Don’t tailgate. It’s easy for a scammer to create an accident if the car directly behind is not leaving enough room to break before a collision. Also keep your eyes focused beyond the car in front of you so you can start applying the brakes early if traffic is slowing down.

— Always have a pen and paper handy in your car. Count the number of passengers in the other car if you are in a collision. Get names, phone numbers and driver’s license numbers. Scammers will often try to make claims for more people than were actually in the car. Also take down the license plate number of the other car.

— Take note of the behavior of the other car’s passengers. Are they joking and laughing initially then suddenly hurt and serious when the police arrive?

— Keep a camera in your car, or use a good phone camera, to take pictures of the damage the other car received, its license plate and inspection stickers and the other car’s occupants.

— Call the police to the scene of an accident. Even for minor damage it’s a good idea to get a police report with an officer’s name on it. If said report only mentions a scratch or minor damage it makes it much more difficult for the scammers to defraud the insurance company later.

— If you witness an accident, get involved. If you sense a scam or spot any warning signs offer your assistance to the honest victim.

— If a scam is suspected, please call the National Insurance Crime Bureau 24 hours a day, seven days a week at 1-800-835-6422. Be prepared to provide a license plate number, location of the accident, people involved, why you think this was a fraud, and as many other details as possible.

The roads are dangerous enough and our insurance premiums are already sky-high without the added burden of sleazy scammers causing these accidents and then defrauding the insurance companies of billions of dollars. An ounce of caution might be able to prevent some of these staged collisions, but even those that do succeed can often be thwarted by honest citizens who keep their wits and take the time to record the details of an accident properly. Stay alert out there and drive safely.
LINKS:

NICB has created a series of videos demonstrating some of the most common types of staged accidents. They can be viewed here:
www.nicb.org/multimedia/staged-videos/staged-accident-videos.

JIM COURI AND SCAMS INC ARE IN AGREEMENT TO ENTER INTO JOINT VENTURES TO PURSUE THE CORRUPT, SCAMMERS AND SWINDLERS

Jim Couri, a Founder, resigned from Scamraiders in 2009 to begin a long and ongoing arduous fight against Stage 4 cancer and other grave medical disorders. Scams Inc in early 2011 closed on the purchase of Scamraiders business, domains, trademarks and copyrights.

Jim continues his cancer fight and active treatments as well as his being confronted with a myriad of medical complications, heart disease, intestinal disorders and multiple surgeries. Jim cannot travel. Jim is range-bound from Southern California where he resides with his wife and UCLA Medical Center where most of his treatment, surgeries and medical care occurs.

That said, Scams Inc has encouraged Jim to devote some time to aiding in the Scams Inc fight and exposes of corruption; particularly in the areas of corrupt lawyers, corrupt courts and judges and other white collar crimes, bribery, collusion and sell out lawyers, fraud and more.

Jim Couri has consented to become a Consultant to Scams Inc and has consented to produce Videos that will be aired on Scams Inc, Scamraiders and on YouTube that will reveal, expose and denude the corruption on going in courts and elsewhere.

Scams Inc’s Investigators will be working with Jim to follow-up Jim’s leads of corrupt and crooked lawyers, judges, court referees, bribery at the courthouses, sell-outs by cheating lawyers, etc.

All of Jim’s videos will contain explosive and detailed material, naming names and all exposes will have been investigated and verified by interviews, court and other documents, pleadings and recordings, etc.

Jim Couri will continue in these capacities as long as they do not impact his medical care and treatment.

All videos (Jim’s and others), will be created, produced and launched from Scams Inc/Scamraiders facilities in Southern California and from Jim’s home.

All Scams Inc can further report at this moment is:

“We welcome Jim Couri and his courage, wisdom, help and guidance — and we warn corrupt, sleazy, railroading lawyers and back-room colluding, ‘sell-out’ judges, look out -our investigators will open the can of worms and Scams Inc will expose you.”

IS COZEN O’CONNOR ESQS SELLING POLITICAL PATRONAGE UNDER THE GUISE OF LEGAL SERVICES?

Take a look, read between the lines and you decide. Is bribery, collusion corruption and access for a paper bag far behind? Cozen’s strategies are very curious and look much like the old days in Brooklyn, NY.

See: http://www.copublicstrategies.com/about-us

FTC WARNING – ROBOCALLS OFFERING CREDIT CARD RATE REDUCTION SCAMS

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released an alert warning US consumers to be on the lookout for automated calls from companies claiming that for a fee they will help negotiate a lower rate on credit cards. In the alert, Credit Card Interest Rate Reduction Scams, the FTC urges consumers to be highly skeptical of these automated calls.

This scam has been making the rounds for several years. According to the Better Business Bureau, complaints began to come in slowly around the summer of 2007 then escalated significantly in the latter part of 2008. There was a fresh wave clogging the voicemail boxes of potential victims in early 2010 which led to the alert being issued by the FTC.

The automated calls make vague claims about saving big bucks for those in serious credit card debt. At the end of the recorded message, the recipient is given a call-back number to contact, if interested. Once the consumer returns the initial call, the real pitch begins.

Alison Southwick, a spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau, broke down how a typical scam call will go in a posting late last year. A typical consumer with two credit cards carrying interest rates of 12 and 14 percent is promised a drastic reduction in APR to between 4.99% and 6.99%. The consumer is then promised a savings of interest and fee payments somewhere in the neighborhood of $2,000 to $25,000, with additional assurances that the debt will be paid off three to five times faster than normal. After these non-binding promises are made, a large upfront fee is requested, normally $600-$900. The scammer gets the consumer’s credit card information, which includes the customer service number on the back of the card. The caller, which at that point has already charged the advance fee to the credit cards, then places a conference call to the credit card issuer. The scammer then makes a request with a customer service representative to have the interest rate on the card reduced during the three way conversation with the cardholder. With the majority of complaints the BBB has received, Southwick says, “that’s the extent of the negotiation process.”

During the sales pitch from these scammers, they often claim to have a special relationship with the credit card companies. Besides the guarantees of lower interest rates and speedy debt resolution, they regularly aggressively push the scam by saying the reduced interest rates are only being offered for a limited time and quick action is crucial. There have been reports that money-back guarantees were offered as incentive.

The FTC warns consumers to be wary of the hype. Those behind the automated calls are not capable of doing anything that any individual consumer couldn’t do for themselves for free. The individual has just as much cache with the credit card issuing companies as these scammers and both are just as likely to be accepted or denied for a reduction in interest rate payments.

Last week’s alert from the FTC stated plainly that their investigators, “found that people who pay for these services don’t get the touted interest rate reductions, don’t save the promised amounts, don’t pay off their credit card debt three to five times faster, and struggle to get refunds.”

Here are some tips to remember if you get one of these calls, whether automated or live:

– Call comes up as “unknown caller” on CallerID with no provided phone number.

– These scam calls are made cold turkey; the recipient might not even have a credit card. The calls are being made randomly in the hopes of discovering potential victims. Calls like this should be regarded as scams.

– If you are on the National Do Not Call Registry, companies can call you only if you have agreed to accept calls from the company the salesperson works for, have purchased something from the company in the last 18 months or requested information from the company in the last three months. If none of these apply, then you have been randomly called by an automated system. Do not call back. Information and links to the National Do Not Call Registry are provided at the end of the article.

– Don’t give out your credit card information. There is no reason to share this information with a third party when you can be dealing directly with your credit card issuer. After using the number to charge the upfront fee, some scammers might also make further fraudulent purchases in the future and/or sell the information to others.

– Never share personal information like your bank account or social security number during one of these calls. Scammers will often try to lure this information while bombarding the victim with multiple form questions they are “filling out” during these unsolicited sales pitches. Once they have this type of information though, you can be certain they will use it against you in future frauds.

– Unsolicited and automated calls should always be approached with caution. They are often simply scams in disguise. If you want to renegotiate but don’t feel comfortable taking on the task alone, the Better Business Bureau recommends using the services of a reputable credit counseling agency. Links for checking on a company’s accreditation can be found at the end of the article.

The Federal Trade Commission takes the stance that if a consumer is interested in trying to negotiate new interest rates with their credit card issuer their success is just as likely if they do it themselves for free. It really is as simple as calling the number on the back of your credit card and then asking the customer service representative about reducing your rate. Remember to stay calm and be persistent. There is no reason to pay someone else hundreds of dollars to complete a task you can perform for yourself. If an automated call with promises of reduced credit card rates tempts you – hang up immediately.
LINKS:

If you would like to report violations of the Do Not Call Registry, or would like to register, call 1-888-382-1222. Or visit the website –
www.donotcall.gov

Check a consumer credit counselor’s credentials at:

Better Business Bureau –
www.bbb.org

National Foundation for Credit Counseling –
www.nfcc.org

Business-owners beware! Overpayment scammers are targetting YOU!

A small business owner is thrilled at the prospect of a huge sale, the biggest of the year. The cashier’s check for over $50,000 was deposited and everyone was happy. Then the client called asking to cancel a part of the order. The small business owner was happy to refund the client and cut and mailed the check immediately. After all, what’s $7,000 when you’ve just banked $50,000?

About two weeks later the small business owner gets some bad news. The cashier’s check for $50,000 was bogus. The company has now lost forever the “refund” money they forwarded to the scamming client along with any goods provided.

This scam has been making its way through the business world for some time. A large cashier’s or “official bank check” is provided then a refund is requested. Often the amount of the check will be several thousand dollars more than the agreed-upon price, which is where the con derives its name – the Overpayment Scam.

Hotels, business facilities and exposition halls have regularly found themselves victims with the scammer blocking a large number or rooms for events, then calling to cancel a portion of the reservations.

Other’s who are often victim to this scam are event planners and caterers, along with companies that offer high-end products such as sports equipment, vehicles of all types and jewelry.

In an interview with BusinessWeek .com, CEO and President of the Milwaukee Better Business Bureau Randall Hoth took special not that the victims of these overpayment scams shared a common trait.

“The common thread seems to be business that advertise themselves on the internet…it opens up the opportunity to be surfed and scammed.”

If the con artists are viewing the internet as fertile soil for these overpayment scams, then small business are not the only one’s in danger. One only needs to look at the numbers for Craigslist and Ebay to spot another area ripe with potential victims.

Eight million people use Craigslist every month, at more than two billion page views. With pages specifically catered 120 cities and 25 countries, the “For Sale” section is among the site’s top areas. Ebay generated over six billion dollars in yearly business and that number was expected to increase by another billion in twelve months. Ebay has over 222 million registered users.

These sites are a conduit for small business to sell their goods and services, but more often than not they offer an online auction house for every day people who are looking to make some extra cash. These are ideal victims of an overpayment scam.

Along with the sale of goods, there are other services provided by individuals online that are susceptible to these overpayment scams. Those looking to rent apartments, for example, have found themselves falling victim to the con artists.

A Brandeis University message board recently exploded with reports of an overpayment scammer who was targeting locals looking to rent spare rooms and apartment to students. They were contacted by a man claiming to be a prospective student’s uncle who was looking to place her in a safe environment as she was coming from a Russian home where she had been abused.

The check he sent, a full month before the “student” was due to arrive, exceeded the rental fee by several thousand dollars. The “uncle” then requested to have the amount he overpaid wired back to him, after asking the renter to keep half of it as a good faith gesture for keeping an eye on his niece. Of course, the initial check was bogus. The entire story concocted to play on the emotions of the victims, even seeming to reward them for doing a good deed.

The specifics may vary, but the basics of the overpayment scam remain the same. The scammers locate their targets through classified ads or online sites like Craigslist or Ebay. The con artists offer payment for whatever is being advertised, whether goods or services, with either a cashier’s check or money order for more than the amount of the item or service advertised. The victim is then instructed to either cut a check or wire the excess amount to the scammer.

The reasons for the overpayment vary. It could be presented as a mistake, or a bonus for inconvenience or money to be sent to a third party, such as a shipping company (which will actually be bogus front for the con artist.) The crook is counting on the time cushion it will take the victim’s bank to identify that the initial check is a fraud to get cash directly from you, and if they’re especially lucky they’ll have goods shipped to them they can then fence.

Here are some things to keep in mind in order to avoid an overpayment scam:

Know who you are dealing with – confirm the buyer’s name, address and telephone number before doing business with them.

Don’t fall for it – Never accept a check for more than the amount you are selling an item for. If the buyer refuses to pay the correct amount, return the check and do not ship the merchandise.

Don’t wire – Never under any circumstances wire funds back to a purchaser. A legitimate buyer will not make this type of request, and if anything does go wrong, your ability to reclaim funds lost via wire transfer are basically nil.

Take your time – Don’t be pressured into quick action by a buyer. If the offer is good now, it should still be so once the check clears.

Keep it local – Request that any payments made by check be drawn at a local bank or at least a large bank with a local branch. You can then take the check by that location and have it confirmed as legitimate.

Be cautious – Don’t assume the check is legitimate just because your bank accepts it. It can often take weeks before a bank discovers a deposited check was actually counterfeit.

Ultimately, you are on the hook and liable for these monies with your financial institution.
Overpayment scams depend on victim’s to be both trusting and honest. You can still be a decent person without being played for a fool. If you are attempting to sell an item or rent a room and someone tries to overpay for it, take a good long look at the situation. You will probably find another scam artist looking to take you for a ride.