As our world has become more digitized (and in some ways, more transparent), we can all recognize that scams have become more and more prevalent.
As scams have metastasized over the decades, they have led us to be very cynical of our fellow humans, especially those with whom we relate online through web sites or chat rooms. It wasn’t very long ago that if we got a wrong number call on our phones, we engaged in a five- or 10-minute conversation with that person just because of who we were – we believed in each other and trusted each other as if we were dealing with ourselves.
But all it takes is for us to be scammed once, or to have someone close to us be scammed out of money or personal information, and we suddenly shut down our trust and start thinking that every stranger we encounter has a nefarious motive. It has become a sad state of personal affairs in the world, but the reality is that we do have to at least have a certain level of healthy skepticism.
In that vein, we want to be trusting of the people we come in contact with, and when we mean to give everyone the benefit of the doubt until we are double-crossed, we tend to get a little less vigilant and we can put ourselves at risk of the very scams we were supposedly guarding against.
There are scams that we all have heard about, and we have trained our radar to look for them so that we can spot them from a mile away. But there are a lot of scams out there that haven’t reached mainstream awareness, and those are the ones that seem to be the most dangerous.
Mass ignorance leads these scams to have endurance – and over time, they end up scamming as much as those well-known scams like the Nigerian lottery scam we have all heard about.
With that in mind, we’d like to bring a few scams to your attention that maybe you have not heard of, or you might have forgotten about because they came to the forefront early on and then faded into the background. But you should be aware of these, because every little bit of money adds up.
#1. The Caribbean Call scam (also known as the “one ring” scam)
Have you ever gotten a phone call on your cell phone from some strange number and had a hang up after one ring? Have you ever been tempted to follow up on that all and press “call back” on your phone to find out if it was someone you know on vacation calling in an emergency?
Scammers want you to follow through on that temptation, and not be a person who pays attention to your phone bill. That strange call could very well have come from one of the Caribbean island nations that use a U.S. area code (such as the Dominican Republic, Jamaica, Grenada, etc.). Though they use U.S. area codes, if you call back the number, your cell service provider counts the call as an international call, and many providers charge about $20 to initiate the call and around $9 per minute that you are on the line (if you don’t already have a plan that allows for international calling).
And since the area code seems innocuous, you could not pay attention to your phone bill, because the area code looks like a local call. And if you are not one who monitors your phone bill regularly, those callback charges may well get posted to your account and you may pay it unwittingly.
Just doing that once costs you $29, and if you imagine just a few hundred people doing that once each, it’s easy to see scammers get a few thousand dollars in their pockets in a short period of time. Make sure you look at your bill when it comes in if you do a call back on one of these strange numbers, and contest that charge with your cell company as quickly as possible.
#2. Unknown Charge scam
This one is a little more stealthy that the previous one, in that a random charge would appear on your card statement without you actually doing anything. If your card information had been compromised, scammers will install a random charge on your card (the common number was $9.84, not sure why) with a website address and a phone number and the heading “Customer Support.”
This is another scam that takes advantage of those of us who trust everything on our statements and really don’t pay attention to the individual activities on our statement. But then, if we actually do catch it, we may get suckered into calling the number given on the statement next to the charge. We may come across a nice person on the phone who will tell you that absolutely the charge will be removed with their apologies.
Except the apology was hollow. There is no confirmation that the charge will be removed, and even if it is, the scammers still have access to your money – so they can always revisit your account later when you are not on your guard anymore. For this scam, end it by reporting the charge to your card provider (bank or financial institution) as soon as you notice it, and then request a new card. The charge will keep appearing as long as you use the same card information. It has to be shut down in order to be effective.
#3. “Windows Support” scam
This scam was pretty bold earlier this decade, so much so that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) filed lawsuits against six companies for their efforts. However, those lawsuits didn’t shut the scam down. For a while these scams got even more aggressive. They have been under the radar lately, which means it may rear its head again.
This scam is a cold call from some unknown number, but the caller says he or she is calling from “Windows Technical Support,” claiming that there are a number of malware and virus problems on your PC, and the caller makes the recommendation to remotely “fix” your computer for you, or suggests you subscribe to a PC-protection service.
If you allow this “support” caller to have access to your computer, you may well be allowing the scammer to install malware on your PC without your knowledge. And then, the caller will charge you for the privilege of “fixing” your computer.
First of all, know that Microsoft does not cold call anyone about their PCs. And second, do not allow a stranger to have access to your computer remotely. And third, if the call doesn’t feel right, hang up.
#4. Shrink Wrapping Your Car
This sounds unusual, but stick with me for a minute. You drive your car all the time. Would you like to have your gas and maintenance paid for? Then why not have a company’s advertisement or logo on your car? Yes, there is a scam here, where you actually don’t get the money for advertising.
What usually happens here is that the scammer will offer to pay you some money for you to have a company logo or advertisement posted on the side of your car. The scammers send you a check for more than was agreed upon, and the scammer would request that you deposit the check and “wire” back the overage.
What happens? First of all, the initial check is fake. And while the check clears in your bank in a couple days, it could take a couple weeks or more for the bank to recognize that it was fraudulent. And by then, you would have sent your not-fake money back. Second, wiring the money via Western Union means it’s much harder to track the scammer – a legitimate business would accept a check or money order back and would not ask for a wire transfer.
Unfortunately, we have heard about a number of scams from Craigslist, muddled among all the legitimate listings for services and for-sale items. One of the most infamous scams involves a person taking cash to a seller’s house for some item, and that buyer gets robbed of his cash.
In this case, however, I’m going to bring up a couple of scams that aren’t widely known.
One such scam is the escrow service scam. This involves a seller on Craigslist requesting that you use an escrow service to pay your money for the item – with the claim that it protects both the buyer and the seller. Unless the service suggested is escrow.com or something similar, chances are the escrow service is actually run by the seller, which means once your money goes in, it will not come out. Make sure you check the legitimacy of the escrow service before you put your money in it.
Second, there is a cell-phone scam involving Craigslist ads. One version has a prospective buyer call you about your item and says he’s not able to talk to you “right now,” but wants to put your number in an online service that “stores” your number for later. But this actually signs you up for some membership for $10 or month or more, and it’s next to impossible to get out of it. If you find that happening to you, you will have to get a new credit or debit card and don’t bother getting a refund.
The other related scam involving your number is when someone leaves a callback number, and when you dial it, you think it is an answering service when in reality it is a pay-per-call service. The second you dialed the number, you get charged – possibly as much as $30!
While a lot of scams have been shut down over the years, there are still plenty of other ones out there. If anything gives you a knot in your stomach, that is the feeling of money leaving your wallet and not coming back. In that case, say “no.” No is the safest word when it comes to money.
Jon writes at Penny Thots, a personal finance blog that helps readers improve their finances one day at a time.