Monday, August 27, 2012
Locksmith scam a new twist
If you need to change the locks, say someone stole your purse with your house keys, be extra careful when shopping for a locksmith. Some con artists advertise super low prices on the Internet, show up when you call, disassemble the lock and then say they’re going to have to charge far more than advertised.
“And here you are without a functioning lock now,” said Susan Grant, director of consumer protection for the Consumer Federation of America in Washington.
The locksmith scam is just one of the many ways for someone to pick your pocket – and your lock – these days. Keep an eye out for these scams:
Crooks love passing bogus checks, so they are hitting mailboxes and grocery carts.
The homeowner writes a check to the electric company and trustingly leaves the envelope for the mail carrier.
Bad move. The crook gets the envelope first, then tweaks the check – maybe even making the amount bigger – and cashes it.
Stick to electronic bill pay, automatic bill pay or mail bills directly at the post office.
Nationwide, con artists known as the Felony Lane Gang ripped off IDs and checkbooks in Nebraska, Alabama, Illinois and elsewhere. The Detroit Mad Hatters – a group of older women who wore hats – snatched wallets or checkbooks out of purses at supermarkets last year. Sounds simple: But don’t leave your wallet or purse in your car even when you make quick trips.
Fraudsters can scam you with a financial aid pitch, too.
Parents and students need to be skeptical about websites and schemes for quick-fix financial aid. The pitch could be tempting as students head back to college and wonder how to pay the bills. Some deals promise a money-back guarantee, but the Better Business Bureau said there are so many hoops that it’s often impossible to get a refund.
Mark Kantrowitz, publisher of FinAid.org and FastWeb.com, said students shouldn’t be paying $3 or $5 or $50 for a chance at a scholarship. Some of those deals are outright scams, where no scholarship money is paid. Others, he said, might pay out some scholarship money but raise thousands of dollars more in fees than the amount that is paid out to students.
Don’t send money to pay taxes upfront on a so-called scholarship, either.
Don’t lose sleep – and money – over a bogus tax lien.
Some fraudsters are targeting elderly people and students and frightening them into thinking they must address a tax lien. The Internal Revenue Service noted that the schemers can charge victims $5,000 or more to settle bogus federal tax liens. The IRS isn’t initiating contact by using Facebook or texting you.
The dirty secret about some so-called mystery shopping jobs is that you lose $1,000 or more.
Lately, fraud experts report some consumers have gotten caught after finding a secret-shopper job online and then receiving a document that includes logos from big-name retailers, such as Walgreens and Wal-Mart.
“It looks pretty official,” said Dianne Shovely, vice president at Comerica’s fraud services office in Auburn Hills, Mich.
It’s fake. The scammers also send a fake check, say for $1,983.25. The shopper is to spend $100 or so at a time at a store and report on the service and the product. Then, the shopper is to wire back $1,280 and keep the rest.
Well, it’s all a scam.
“They’ve sent you a counterfeit check,” Shovely said. You wire back money and you’re out what you spent shopping – and the money you wired back.
A store-bought prepaid card is a new twist in some scams.
The Ohio Attorney General’s Office reported as part of a consumer survey that one man was asked to put $416 on a prepaid card and send it off to stop calls reportedly from the Legal Department of Florida that claimed he owed money on a payday loan.
But the calls kept coming. So he did more legwork. His payday lender said he only owed $390. He discovered the caller had no connection to the payday loan company. The consumer agency contacted the prepaid card issuer and found out the money was still on the card, thanks to a glitch. The man was able to get his money back.
Another person, according to the survey, stopped an elderly man at a store from putting $500 on a prepaid card so he could send it to someone and claim a $1-million prize in return.
“They really don’t understand what they’re doing is sending cash to someone who is untraceable,” Grant said.
The “Grandparent Scam” remains alive and well.
Don’t wire money to your grandson who needs help in Mexico – or a granddaughter who claims to be in jail in Canada. Contact a family member first to find out whether a relative is really facing financial trouble.
Watch out for someone willing to pay more than what you asked for that used car or that hardly worn engagement ring.
One of the top Internet scams is a fake buyer who offers a legitimate-looking check for more than the asking price. The so-called buyer needs you to wire back excess cash. Weeks later, the seller finds out that the check was bogus. The seller is then on the hook for any bounced checks, the money lost that was withdrawn from the bank and the loss of the item that was sold. Western Union warns that if a buyer insists that you wire money back from a legitimate-looking check, don’t do it.
Con artists like to drop official sounding names or deals to make a deal seem legit.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, for example, doesn’t have a sweepstakes going where you can get a check worth up to $1.5 million – if you pay the “taxes” before you get the award.
President Barack Obama is not paying your utility bills.
Consumers nationwide have been getting telephone calls and text messages claiming that President Obama has a new federal program that provides credits or applies payments to electric or gas bills. All you have to do is give over your Social Security number and bank account information.
Of course, the bill doesn’t get paid. And you are very likely going to lose money from your account by scammers or be a victim of ID theft.
Consumers Energy said more than 2,300 of its customers have sought $1 million as victims of a nationwide utility scam. DTE Energy said it had about 3,500 customers that made payments with the fake number. DTE said it reversed the non-sufficient fees for customers who sent in such payments and has alerted customers about the scam.
Copyright © 2012 Detroit Free Press, Susan Tompor, personal finance columnist. Distributed by MCT Information Services.