It doesn't seem to matter how educated you are or what your station is in life - anyone can be scammed.
At least that seems to be the lesson learned from what went down in the Iowa Supreme Court last month. According to the Business Record, a publication serving Des Moines and central Iowa, a client came to attorney Robert Allan Wright, Jr., in 2011 with a letter claiming he was due to receive an $18.8 million inheritance from a deceased relative in Nigeria. All the client had to do was pay $177,660 in inheritance taxes in Nigeria.
The client, Floyd Lee Madison, told Wright he would pay a $1.8 million fee for his help. Wright began asking his clients for loans to pay the inheritance taxes and promised them that they would recoup their investments. As one can imagine, things didn't go well. Despite raising more than $200,000 for the so-called estate in Nigeria, Madison never received his inheritance and Wright never received his fee. Wright went afoul of the law for, among other things, not telling his clients that before loaning him money, they should seek independent counsel. The Iowa Supreme Court suspended Wright's license for a year.
As crazy of a con as it sounds on the surface, every consumer is susceptible to what the next day might seem like an outlandish scam. In part, the problem for every scam victim is that while the criminal's ultimate goal of wanting your money will always stay true, the way they go about getting it continues to evolve.
"It's the same old thing, but it's done in a different way," says David Sun, CEO of SunBlock Systems, a Reston, Va.-based information technology company that specializes in computer forensics, among other things. "Crooks used to come and knock on your door and say, 'Hey, buy this,' and then with the advent of the telephone, you had crooks posing as telemarketers, and then with email, it was spam, and cons are always going to keep going and changing. Because just as the public perception catches up with what's happening, the con men come up with the next approach."
And what's the next approach? Nobody knows, but here are some of the more recent scams making the rounds.
The caller ID spoofing scam. Caller ID was supposed to help callers identify who was on the other end of the telephone line, but some criminals are threatening to destroy the technology's usefulness with a technique known as caller ID spoofing.
"A scammer purchases access to a service that allows the user to modify the caller ID that is displayed to people they call," explains Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers, a research and education organization in Oak Brook, Ill., that serves the banking and financial services sectors. "The scammer calls a victim and has the name and number of a local bank displayed on the caller ID on the victim's home phone. The caller then pretends to be a representative of the bank and tells the victim that there has been possible fraud activity on their account and they need to verify some information."
You can figure out what happens next. Even though the memo has surely gotten out that you shouldn't give personal information to a stranger over the telephone, if your caller ID shows that this is someone from your bank, you might understandably figure that this has to be one of those exceptions.
Except it isn't.
[See: 9 Ways to Keep Your Phone Safe.]
The work-for-us-for-free scam. In this scam, no one agrees to work for free; they just think they're working for a paycheck when their employer has no intention of giving them anything.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of flexjobs.com, which specializes in serving telecommuters, says one of her clients came to her after working for someone she met on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a respected, career-oriented site, but just as with Facebook and other social media sites, bad guys can sign up to be members, too. Fell says this particular job seeker worked for a small company supposedly based in Florida, making sales calls for them for three weeks. She might have been duped into working longer, but she received a phone call, letting her know that her services wouldn't be needed any longer but a paycheck would be forthcoming. It never came.
"Legitimate companies usually won't contact you out of the blue on LinkedIn to offer you the job. They might ask you to apply for an opening or schedule an interview, but never to offer you the job without talking to you first," Sutton Fell says.
For job seekers now wondering if they should ever trust anyone they meet via social media sites, the answer is yes, but be careful. This particular job seeker was interviewed over the phone, Sutton Fell says, but the now-obvious red flag is that the so-called employer wanted to hire her right away.
"The job seeker who was scammed on LinkedIn told us that the scam company asked her to make a decision on the spot and required her to start immediately, rather than giving two weeks' notice to her current employer," Sutton Fell says. "Scammers like to use urgency like this to knock you off-guard and cause you to make rash decisions before really thinking them through."
The utility scam. Many consumers have probably heard that if their utility company calls - or any company, for that matter - and requests personal information, stay away. But Steven Weisman, founder of scamicide.com, a blog that offers information on scams, says that during the "polar vortex" in early January, consumers were receiving phone calls from so-called utility companies and were told that they were behind on their payments and their utilities would be shut off unless immediate payment was made using a Green Dot MoneyPak card (a favorite tool of scammers).
All of which may sound plausible enough if you're behind on your electric bill and scared of the heat going out during a raging winter storm.
It's worth remembering this scam since some meteorologists are predicting another polar vortex before the season is over.
The something-is-wrong-with-your-computer scam. People have been duped by this one for a while now, but it seems to be making a comeback, according to Steven Benario, a product manager at Ufora, a data company in New York City.
"I've actually personally seen two instances of a scam going around wherein someone calls the victim claiming to be Microsoft technical support and convinces the victim that their machine is insecure," Benario says. "In both cases, the victim then gave a credit card over the phone and authorized about $100 in charges while the scammer remotely controlled the computer to 'fix it' live."
Of course, the victim is paying the criminal to do nothing - while giving away credit card information. But it's easy to understand how people allow themselves to become victims with a scam like this. Con artists exploit everyone's fear of being conned.
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