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.

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

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.

Free Lunch? Visit Mom, Not the Stock Exchange!

Investment scams have been around a long time. Bernie Madoff might have been caught red-handed orchestrating the largest known Ponzi scheme in history at an estimated 64.8 billion dollars stolen, but he wasn’t doing anything new. Charles Ponzi, the schemes namesake, was arrested in 1920 for bilking investors out of millions, and he was likely inspired by Brooklyn bookkeeper William F. Miller who used the scheme to collect a cool million in 1899.

Business Week magazine recently reported in July that the SEC had filed 34 cases of alleged investment scams, a definite up-tick from just last year. These scams aren’t necessarily increasing in number though, but rather are finding themselves exposed by the financial realities of today.

Most investment scams are difficult to spot. Madoff’s, for example, began in 1991. The scam, which pays off high returns to separate investors from the money paid by subsequent investors instead of from actual profits, probably would have kept chugging along if not for the current economic crisis which was hurt by both a lack of new investors and the curiosity of older investors wondering how their returns were so high in such a tumultuous market.

Securities fraud steals $40 billion a year from investors, per an estimate from the North American Securities Administrators Association in the Business Week article. Even though some of the bigger scams are in the headlines as those orchestrating the schemes are led from their offices in handcuffs, don’t expect the trend to slow down. Con men sense an opportune market with many folks looking for quick and easy ways to safely turn a profit. Big and small, investment scams are here to stay.
There are many different kinds of investment scams out there; here are some of the more popular:

1.Ponzi schemes – Normally target big investors, and perpetrated by “respectable” financial professionals. Promise big returns and provide them until the investor pool dries up. The only thing really being invested in though, is the scammers lavish lifestyle.

2.Internet scams – Unsolicited email offers and shady websites offering investment opportunities in non-existent companies or products.

3.Prime Bank scams – Investments offered in overseas banks that are normally exclusive to the top tiers of society and which don’t actually exist.

4.Investment seminars – A large group of potential investors, sometimes hundreds, are pitched a remarkable opportunity for a sure-thing investment in a seminar setting. Often you are expected to pay immediately, as the offer will soon be leaving town with the scammer. Along with your money if you fall for it.

5.Unlicensed Sales – Investment advice or opportunities offered to you, unsolicited, by unlicensed brokers or sales agents.

6.Affinity scams – Scammers join hobby clubs, religious groups, or specific ethnic social organizations. After gaining folks trust, they sell them on a bogus investment that has been specifically targeted to the group of victims who they are looking to exploit.
The real problem with investment scams are recognizing and separating the nefarious plots from genuine opportunities. Sometimes it can be hard to discern the scams, but there are definite red flags to be aware of and basic precautions you can take to protect yourself.

Investment scammers are going to be charming. They are going to be charismatic. They are going to be well-spoken and convincing. They are criminals, but they are also salesmen. And you are the customer.

Learn to recognize when some common signs of a scam pitch. The pitches often utilize current events the scammer read in the paper or saw on the news such as political unrest, the economic situation, and emerging technologies and new products. They will almost always have three major talking points: incredibly returns or profits from the investment, how safe and sound the investment is, and how easily you can get your principle back if needed. None of which, of course, are true.

With investment scammers so difficult to identify, what precautions can be taken? Try out the three C’s.

Compare – Whenever an investment opportunity presents itself to you compare it with similar opportunities from other firms. Don’t invest in a money market from one bank, without checking out the rates of a competitor.

Consider – Never, ever, make a purchase decision at the sales pitch. Take you time, and think it through. Ask to be provided a prospectus which breaks down risks and potentials. Serious financial pros should make such available to you, although that doesn’t guarantee legitimacy. Research the company, the product, the security and/or stock. Investment opportunities should not be impulse buys, and if you find yourself pressured for a decision without proper consideration, you are probably being conned.

Consult – Scammers normally take advantage of those with little investment experience. Even the playing field. Talk to a professional financial advisor. Talk to your friends and family. If you have been snowed to the point of blindness by a too good to be true opportunity, have some fresh eyes you trust take a look at it. They will be much more likely to see the truth.

You can take these precautions and still find yourself scammed, so be vigilant. Question quick returns, scammers will often make out small payments right off the bat to gain more trust. Examine your reports for unauthorized transactions. Never trust promises of high returns for little risk. Repeat to yourself once again: If it’s too good to be true, it’s probably a scam.

VALENTINE’S DAY SCAMS – FROM YOUR HEART TO THE SCAMMERS BILLFOLD

The 14th day of February. Valentine’s Day. Romantics view the day as a chance to shower their soul mate with love. Sweet words, sentimental cards, elaborate gifts and restaurant reservations are employed by both the committed and those looking to make a love connection. Cynics view it as another example of our over-commercialized society hijacking something that should be expressed much more often and freely.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of scam artists who view Valentine’s Day as just another opportunity to fleece those who are willing to open up their hearts and wallets.

If you plan on celebrating Valentine’s Day this year, here are a few popular scams you’d be wise to be aware of:
FAKE VALENTINE ECARDS – You’ve probably gotten one of these in the past. As our time online has increased through the years, so too has there been an explosion in online greeting cards. These electronic greetings contain text, images, and even customizable movies; they are being swapped between friends, family members and business associates.

The con artists love to exploit emerging trends, and Valentine’s Day is prime territory.

Most electronic greeting cards will arrive via an email informing you that you have a card waiting at greeting card site. A link will be provided for you for that site, and when clicked it will send you to the waiting card. But if you click, beware. You might be getting much more than a seasonal greeting.

The Valentine’s card might appear amusing at first, but the laughter won’t last long. The ecard scam cons victims by placing a malicious link in the email. When clicked, it sends the users browser to an exploitive server. After guaranteeing the potential victim doesn’t have the proper patches in the browsing software, the scammers forcibly load a rootkit and a keystroke logger. Then the victim is sent to the legitimate-appearing greeting card.

A rootkit is software which obscures the fact that your computer has been compromised. Keystroke software is exactly what it sounds like, a way the scammer’s can record every keystroke you make and then divine from the information every user name, password, credit card number, bank account number, social security number or any personal information you enter. If you type it, they now have access to it.

On the user’s end, nothing appears out of the ordinary. An email arrived asking them to check out a Valentine’s Day greeting, they clicked on the link, noticed it wasn’t actually sent by someone they recognized and then closed the card without realizing their identity and financial information was at risk.

Many of these initial emails will be vague, almost coy. A “business associate”, or “family member”, or “close friend” has sent you a Valentine and it can be easily accessed by clicking on the provided link. Never click through on emails from unidentified sources.

Even if it comes from a known person, be wary. Your friend or relative might have been the victim of a virus. They opened the card, had the malware unknowingly loaded, then the virus re-sent the bait to everyone in their address book. It would be wise to go directly to the publishing site the card is supposed to have come from and access it there. Otherwise, contact the sender and make sure they sent the card out. If they were the victim of a self-sustaining virus, they might not even realize the fake cards have been sent in their name.

FLOWER FRAUD – Be careful when ordering flowers online. There are numerous websites which claim to be local florists offering great deals, but in reality they are call centers who will see to it that most of the money you spend goes directly into their own pocket.

Many of these companies advertise on Google under such names as Flowershopers.com or Petalsforless.com and the like. They claim to be located in whatever area you are looking to have flowers delivered. This is a blatant falsehood. What you are getting is a call center with only one location.

You place your order with this call center. You see pictures of the flower arrangement online, or hear a description of what you are purchasing over the phone. You want spend $100, included in which is a reasonable-sounding $12.50 shipping and delivery fee. You feel satisfied with the purchase. Don’t expect the flowers you ordered to necessarily be what shows up on the doorstep.

There is another hidden fee, called a relay fee. The company you are calling is simply going to contact a local florist in the area you are having flowers delivered and place the order for you. They are going to take this “relay fee’ out of the money you intended to spend on an arrangement and forward it directly to their bank account. All the while counting on the fact you won’t actually see what the final arrangement looks like. Instead of the $100 you thought was being spent on the flowers, only $70-60 is actually used, the rest being pocketed by the shady company. This can result in a significantly different floral arrangement than what the customer is led to believe they are purchasing.

When ordering flowers, stick to the big boys, well-known companies with a long track-record of satisfied customers, or consider locating a local florist and order from the store directly after confirming they are physically located in the town where you are having the flowers sent.

PHISHING SCAMS – Valentine’s Day is a popular time for phishing scams because of the high volume of online orders. The scammers send out phony emails with bogus claims that the flowers, candy or cards you sent are being held for deliver. A link is provided which directs the victim to a legitimate-looking website where they are asked to enter in their credit card information for verification before the items in question are released for delivery.

These mass spam emails are often sent blindly, and you can easily recognize them if you haven’t actually placed an order. But their intended targets are those victims who maybe aren’t used to ordering online, and have done so especially for Valentine’s Day. These newbies are much more likely to fall for this type of scam.

If you get this email, never use the link without first calling the seller, florist or company in question on the telephone and verifying if there is any issue. If it looks sketchy, it probably is a scam.

JEWELRY – Starting in the 80’s, the diamond industry began promoting Valentine’s Day as a perfect time to give your loved one jewelry. Thirty years later this has become something of a tradition for some revelers, and represents a growing opportunity for scammers.

There are ubiquitous ads these days, particularly online, offering jewelry at ridiculous prices. “$10,000 diamonds for $500.” Don’t fall for the hype. These ads really proliferate around Valentine’s Day when the market for jewelry is particularly hot.

It’s an easy scam to sell worthless goods to uneducated customers. Doing business electronically makes it even easier. The photos might look great, but chances are you aren’t getting a real diamond, and that gold is probably not 24 karats.

When purchasing jewelry it is always best to do so in person. Buy from someone respected, preferably with bone fide recommendations. Always make these purchases with a credit card; this is your best chance for refuting the charge and getting your money back.
These are just a few of the scams to look out for this Valentine’s Day. Be alert, be smart, and think things through. Make sure the person you are making the happiest on this holiday is the one you love – not some pathetic scam artist who’s wallet you helped fill.

CHURCH SCAMS – CURRENTLY UNDER INVESTIGATION

Scammers prey on the trusting, the uninformed, and the innocent. Recently, California has begun investigating several companies that are suspected of scamming churches, which may be the lowest of the low. Churches in Southern California seem to be the biggest target, with over 30 of them,in Compton, Los Angeles, Long Beach, Moreno Valley, Murrieta, Pasadena, Perris, Pomona, Rialto, Riverside and San Bernardino all being targeted. They are not the only ones though. Churches in at least 10 other states have also been hit by this scam. In total, these diabolical companies have (allegedly) come away with almost $700,000.

In this scam, churches were offered “free” computers to be used as message boards and generate revenue for the church through advertising. At the time, Rev. Clyde Oden Jr. of the Bryant Temple Church in South Los Angeles, thought “this seemed to be a cutting edge opportunity”. But as is often the case, what sounded like a great opportunity was anything but. Called “computer learning kiosks” by the companies supplying them, they were in fact nothing more than regular desktop computer and printers, mounted in fancy-looking wooden boxes. They also were not “free”. The churches were left with leases as high as $45,000 per year, which completely wiped out any revenue they might generate, and ended up being a rather crippling sum. Oden initially received quarterly checks for $3,000 from Maryland companies Urban Interfaith Network and Television Broadcasting Online (both now under investigation), supposedly for “kiosk advertising”, but after a year, those checks stopped coming and Oden was left to pay the the full amount to the company who had leased the machine.

Authorities are investigating the owners of the companies that provided the computers, three men and a woman. Two of those men were charged in a Michigan court last month for fraud and racketeering, amongst other crimes. Prosecuters in those cases determined they had taken approximately $660,000 from churches.

Three leasing companies were also subpoenaed in connection with this alleged scam – United Leasing Associate of America Ltd. of Wisconsin, Balboa Capital Corp. (based in Irvine, CA), and Banc of America Leasing and Capital LLC., based in San Francisco, California. Banc of America Leasing is a subsidary of Bank of America, though a Bank of America spokesman has stated that they are cooperating with the investigation and were not aware of any wrongdoing when they had business dealings with the companies under investigation.

It just goes to show that scammers will stop at nothing to make a buck. Not even holy ground is safe.

Office Supply Scams — Thirty Years of Swindlers?

Since the late 1970’s, scammers have targetted businesses across the United States with a small and simple, but effective swindle — call and ask for the serial numbers of a copier/fax machine in the building. The scam artist then has a palette of copier paper delivered — usually low-grade — along with an invoice for an astronomical sum.

The culprit is counting on the office manager paying the invoice without checking with the shipper first, assuming that the order is legitimate. Sometimes, the scammer will even serupticiously find out the name of the person in charge of ordering supplies, and include this name and contact info on the supply invoice.

The FTC has collected numerous complaints about this scam, and has arrested hundreds of people involved in scamming businesses for office supplies. Though the amount is usually less than $1,000, these individuals are preying on small and medium sized companies — those that can least afford it, especially in these troubled economic times.

To avoid being scammed, make sure your emplyees know that they should never give out the name of the person in charge of purchasing, even if the person on the line claims to be a survey taker, or from a legitimate office supply vendor (Staples, Office Max, Office Depot).
And if you are taken in — don’t pay the bill. The FTC says businesses are not required to pay for supplies that they have not ordered directly.
See —
Federal Trade Comission:
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/fraud/bus24.shtm
http://www.ftc.gov/bcp/edu/pubs/business/alerts/alt065.shtm

MASS MARKETING SCAMS – FBI WARNS CITIZENS TO LOOK OUT FOR OLD FRAUDS USING NEW DELIVERY METHODS

The Federal Bureau of Investigation issued a press release warning Americans about the increase in decades-old mass marketing scams which are finding fresh victims via new delivery methods.

Mass marketing fraud has been around for many years. Using mass communication techniques like bulk mailings or telemarketing phone calls, the scammers attempt to trick their victims into providing money and/or personal information with false promises of prizes, products or employment opportunities that do not exist.

Just last month, the Federal Trade Commission issued reimbursement checks to 3,500 consumers who had been defrauded by a bogus marketing company which promised sure-fire business opportunities.

The scammers had used mass mailings to swindle thousands of victims into providing upfront fees to start a work-at-home medical billing business. Fees of up to $5,000 were paid to the company to provide the first client and a solid list of future potential clients in the area.

Though assured they would be making at least $1,200 monthly, most who paid the fee quickly found there were no local clients available and the scammers provided no assistance as promised and refused to return the fee.

The scope of this type of fraud has drastically increased, according to the FBI’s statement. This type of mass marketing scam can reach a much wider audience through the internet, both with spam email and bogus websites. The scammers widen their nets, but decrease their personal risk with the ability to operate from halfway around the world.

According to an article by Tracy Russo on the DOJ website, the “Department of Justice has charged 80 defendants in 53 mass-marketing fraud prosecutions in 27 judicial districts” since October of last year. The losses represented by these cases totals almost $500 million.

An individual was charged late last month with involvement in an international Ponzi scheme by the US Attorney’s Office for the Southern District of Illinois. The fraud allegedly milked around 40,000 investors in 120 different countries to the tune of $70 million. The final payoff and the speed with which the scammers can bank their loot are exponentially greater when the internet is used for this type of scheme. There is no way a mass mailing or telemarketing calls could achieve this level of fraud before being noticed.

New scams pop up just as quickly as old ones are busted. The National Credit Union Administration, which regulates charters and supervises federal credit unions, issued a warning on May 25th for union members to watch out for bogus emails soliciting participation in an online Member survey with the promise of a $40 payoff. The fraudulent email is believed to be a phishing attempt to gain personal and confidential member information.

The FBI’s press release highlights three current mass marketing frauds making the rounds, each of which have been written about previously on Scamraiders:

— Overpayment of fees, followed by a request for the difference to be wired back overseas. After the overpayment has been returned, the initial check bounces.

This scam has recently focused in US law firms with requests for legal services and overpayment of retainer fees.

— Online rental schemes target both buyers and sellers in the apartment rental market.

Those offering apartments should look out for overpayment scammers operating a similar con as listed above. Counterfeit checks sent to the property owner followed by requests to wire back the difference.

Potential renters are defrauded with legitimate ads are being duplicated by scammers who add their own email address. The interested renter is then asked to send money to the “out-of-town” owner in exchange for a set of keys. No keys are ever sent.

— Unsolicited emails from government agencies, particularly the FBI or IRS, requesting either money or personal information.

Here are some red flags according to the FBI:

— Requests for personal or financial information, like Social Security or bank account numbers, over the phone or on email.

— Aggressive pressure to provide personal information or purchase product immediately.

— Specific requests to pay by cash, money order or wire transfer. All of which make it difficult for the transaction to be tracked by law enforcement.

— Messages informing that you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes you don’t remember entering.

— Requests to help transfer funds out of a country for a small fee to be paid later.

— Overpayment by check for item or product you are selling followed by a request that you wire back the difference.

The FBI’s press release was part of an international day of action taken on June 1st to increase awareness of these mass marketing frauds. Besides American participants other agencies participated from around the globe, included authorities in Australia, Canada, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom. This just spotlights the worldwide scope of this problem.

As the FBI states in its June 1st press release, public awareness of these types of frauds is important since, “an educated consumer can stop these scams by not falling for them in the first place.”

LINKS:

Report Fraud to the following –

Federal Trade Commission

www.ftc.gov

(877) FTC-HELP; (877) 382-4357

Federal Bureau of Investigation

www.fbi.gov

Internet Crime Complaint Center (for internet-based frauds)

www.ic3.gov

The FBI issues a comprehensive report on the most common scams and swindles

The FBI has issued a report on some of the most common scams and swindles and provides ‘tips’ to help and alert from falling victim to the ‘badguys’ and scammers.

Please see this report and the FBI crimes report with additional FBI reports related to healthcare and other scams on Scamraiders homepage along with this article on Jan. 28, 2011.

According to the FBI some of the most frequent scams we citizens are confronted with include identity theft, telemarketing, internet frauds, Ponzi schemes, pump and dump stock schemes, and more significantly insurance, medicare and healthcare scams, swindles and frauds.

Corrupt doctors, healthcare providers, hospitals and others who engage in and/or turn their back on healthcare swindles cost citizens, medicare and insurance companies billions of dollars a year because of intentional fraud and false filings submitted to healthcare insurers as a result of the fraudulent and forged filings and other medicare and insurance scams insurers and medicare are rooked for billions of dollars annually.

If you know of these corrupt acts engaged in by hospitals, doctors or others please contact the FBI as outlined on the FBI fact sheets and reports exhibited.

FBI – Common Fraud Schemes

FBI – Healthcare Fraud

FBI – Financial Crimes Report

FBI – Case of the Drug Dealing Doctor

FBI – Detroit Medicare Strike Force