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You may have heard the one about 51-year-old Maria Gabriella Perez, the
owner of a Beverly Hills beauty salon, who was arrested by federal
authorities this week for allegedly stealing credit card information
from Jennifer Aniston, Anne Hathaway and Liv Tyler among others. Perez,
it seems, racked up $280,000 in fraudulent charges in a year.
Several years ago my son and I were the victims of a scam
perpetrated by a bad guy who lived in Arizona. In total, we lost about
$15,000 in cash and collectibles, far less than the hundreds of
thousands of dollars lost by some of his other victims, who were located
across the globe.
Needless to say I was furious and more than a little embarrassed and I
wanted to get even. Of course, this guy didn’t use any of his real
information. But, hey, I’m an investigative reporter, so I did a little
(OK a lot) of investigative work and finally tracked him down.
Ultimately I turned Phoenix authorities on to him. Actually, they were
already looking for him, but I like to think I had a hand in putting him
behind bars. He was ultimately arrested and is set for trial soon.
Couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.
Anyway, all this got me to thinking about all the scams that people have
fallen prey to over the years. So, for your reading pleasure, here are
seven of my favorites, in no particular order. Oh, and it goes without
saying, "Don't try any of these at home." [Why Old People Make Good Scam Targets]
Work at Home Scams
“Be part of one of America’s Fastest Growing Industries. Be the Boss! Earn thousands of dollars a month from home!”
Ads like this are everywhere — on telephone poles, in your newspaper and
e-mail and on your favorite websites. Although the jobs are different,
the message is the same—you can earn a great living working from home,
even in your spare time.
Some even promise a refund if the “job” doesn’t work out. If you’re like
many people, you’re probably thinking, “Where do I sign up?” But what
you really should do is run, not walk, as far away from these ads as you
The reality is most of these jobs are scams. The con men or women
advertising them may get you to pay for starter kits or certifications
that are useless. And they might even charge your credit card without
One of the most well-known work-at-home scams involves stuffing
envelopes. The ads say that if you pay a “small fee” like $99, you’ll
learn how to earn lots of money stuffing envelopes at home. But all you
get for your money is a letter telling you to scam your friends and
relatives the same way you were scammed by getting them to buy the same
envelope stuffing “opportunity.” Sticking it to them is the only way
you’ll ever see any return on your investment.
Overweight? Have I got a deal for you.
Well, maybe not me, but scammers who promise that they’ll help you lose weight if
you pay them a small fee. They’ll try to sell you bogus weight loss
products like a patch containing kelp you wear that will make you lose
weight, or a pill that will not only help you lose weight, but will also
reverse the aging process. If you bite on one of these scams, the only
thing you’re going to lose is your hard-earned dough.
The Nigerian Scam
Unless you live in a cave or on the moon, you've probably heard about this one. Here’s how it works:
The scammer emails you
claiming to be a Nigerian official, businessperson or the surviving
spouse of a former government official. He or she offers to transfer
millions of dollars into your bank account in exchange for a fee—in this
case, not a small fee, either. If you respond to the initial offer, you
might even receive “official looking” documents. Then the scammer asks
you to provide a blank bank letterhead, your bank account numbers, and
some money to cover transaction and transfer costs and attorney’s fees.
Of course, you’ll lose your money and you’ll never see a dime of those promised millions. [Online Phishing Scams Get Personal]
Salting the Gold Mine
This is an oldie but a goodie. In the olden days, dishonest mine owners
would put a few gold nuggets in worthless mines to convince prospective
buyers the mines contained a ton of gold and get them to buy their
claims. As the story goes, some old-time scammers even used to fire
shotguns loaded with gold dust into the sides of the mines.
900 Phone Number Scam
You get a telephone call or a notice in the mail notifying you that
you’ve won a sweepstakes or a lottery. But to claim your prize you have
to call a 1-900 toll number.
As you listen to the lengthy message you’re racking up significant
charges that will go straight into the scammers’ pockets. These charges
will then appear on your monthly phone bill and you’ll be on the hook
for them. Oh, I forgot to mention. You really didn’t win the sweepstakes
or the lottery.
This is a low-tech version of the recently discovered Trojan malware virus directed in smartphonesrunning
Google’s Android operating system. Once installed on the phone, the
Trojan begins sending text messages, or SMS messages, to premium rate
numbers — numbers that charge a fee — without the owners’ knowledge or
consent, taking money from users’ accounts and sending it to the
Money Order Overpayment Scam
The scam begins when a con artist answers a classified ad or auction
listing, offering to buy the item for sale and pay for it with a money
order. Then he comes up with a reason for sending a money order for more
than the purchase price for the item. The scammer then asks the seller
to wire back the difference after the money order is deposited and
Because the money order looks very real, the bank typically accepts it
as legitimate. Unfortunately, the money order is fake and the seller is
liable to the bank for the entire amount. He also loses the money he
sent the scammer and the item he sold.
The Ponzi Scheme
One of the biggest swindlers in U.S. history, Charles Ponzi’s name is associated with the Ponzi “pyramid” scheme — you know, the one allegedly used by Wall Street’s Bernard Madoff to defraud unsuspecting investors out of $65 billion.
In the 1920s, Charles Ponzi tricked thousands of New England residents
into investing in a postage stamp speculation scheme. At that time the
annual interest rate for bank accounts was just 5 percent, but Ponzi
promised investors that he could provide a 50 percent return in 45 days
and a 100 percent profit in 90 days.
Initially, Ponzi bought a small number of international mail coupons to
support his scheme, but then he used money from later investors to pay
off his earlier investors. In his heyday, Ponzi made millons of dollars
but he ended up broke and in prison.
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