By: Marushka Mujic

Remember as a child on Halloween when your mother insisted you refuse unwrapped candy from the creepy neighbors and never to trust a stranger with an adorable puppy? And how, even though we rolled our eyes at her worrisome obsessions, she was right in retrospect? Well, consider it a lesson one can continually keep learning, even far into our seemingly well-controlled adult lives. The creepy neighbors and puppy-loving strangers may now be bankers and salesmen with better haircuts and seductive vocabularies, but they’re still the same nasty fiends out to ruin your holiday.

‘Good Faith’ Money

In the City of Stockton’s official public warning concerning the tricks and switches of unassuming scams, they list three typical scenarios as classical situational cons. First listed is any circumstance wherein a person, whether business partner or long lost relative, asks you to temporarily put up money until a time of reimbursement and abundant compensation. Most often, these people are a pair or group of charming strangers interested in sharing a ‘guaranteed success’ and “tell you they will split the good fortune with you if everyone involved puts up ‘good faith’ money.” By using the concept of a group of investors, these scammers make you feel comfortable with the idea. Other people are in on it, how dangerous could it be? Unfortunately, these other people are more than likely part of the scam itself.

Bank Promises

Second on the Stockton report is the less obvious scenario of a so-called ‘bank official’ asking that you participate in a plan to catch a dishonest teller/employee by turning over money withdrawn from your personal account. There are a multitude of situations these sort of illegitimate bankers can come up with to convince you that the process is reasonable and will be rewarded. Though you receive a receipt, the transaction is entirely fraudulent and your money gone. Anytime you are asked to randomly withdraw money from your account by any bank-related official, no matter the justification or paperwork provided, it is an immediate sign of a set up.

The Pyramid Scheme

Similar to the idea of investing upfront in hopes that a stranger’s promise will pay off, is the classic con called the Pyramid Scheme. This can begin as simply as a single individual sharing with you a guaranteed idea for making easy money. Both of you agree to invest in this idea and subsequently solicit others to go in on the agreement. A small dividend is often offered to the initial investors in order to assure eventual compensation, but merely works as a device of distraction. Ultimately the pyramid crashes (upon it’s exposure as a fraudulent investment) and the core character in this elaborate con disappears with the entire group’s investment funds. Be sure always to have background information, official contractual agreements and lawyers involved when investing money, especially in groups. The City of Stockton’s general rule of thumb is an efficient (however depressing) warning: “If it sounds too good to be true… it probably is!”

Foreign Lottery

On the note of too good to be true, one should always assume that receiving a random cashiers check for anywhere from 2K to 5K as a so-called ‘advance’ on winnings from a foreign lottery is certainly too incredible to be safe. Commonly, the check arrives with a note asking that the recipient cash out the check and wire half the funds back to it’s senders address to pay taxes on the lottery winnings, wherein the money cashed out of your account vanishes. According to the U.S Postal Inspection, such “foreign lottery scams cost U.S. citizens more than $120 million per year.” 

Craigslist Classic

An electronic version of the mysterious foreign lottery is mirrored by a classic craigslist scam wherein bidders/buyers respond to posted items for purchase and persuade you to pick up a check, cash it from your account and wire back funds for furniture movers, shipping costs, etc. Journalist Aleksandra Todorova of Wall Street Journal’s SmartMoney breaks down the iconic craigslist con: “A remote buyer feigns interest in buying your goods — sight unseen — and sends you a check or money order for more than the item costs. You are asked to wire the difference. Several days later, the bank discovers that the check is fraudulent and you’re responsible for the balance.”  Craigslist receives over 200 monthly complaints on this particular kind of con alone.

Craigslist Uncovered

In January of 2010, Fox news reported the case of a woman, Kate Thacker, who detected a serious scam on craigslist while searching for apartments to rent. Sent photographs and realtor information on a gorgeous apartment, Thacker was asked to send her security, deposit and rent check to Nigeria, as the owners had recently moved out of town, and she immediately spotted the threat. Unlucky others have been lead even farther astray, getting tours of apartments, signing ‘leases’ and receiving keys, only to realize the key no longer fits in the door once the realtor has disappeared and that the apartment actually belongs to someone else with no relation to the transaction’s representative. Bill Cloud of the Office of Consumer Affairs in Thacker’s hometown, Georgia, spoke out to Thacker and countless others who find themselves in such a craigslist circumstance: “Don’t do it unless its local, don’t do it.”

‘Free’ Inspections, Fantastic Bargains

Often scammers will pose as men of service willing to cut you a break just when you most need it. Whether packaging a half-deal price of roofing repair or conducting a free inspection of a vehicle and subsequently revealing rampant problems requiring funds for fixing, these scammers are the most clever, charming and personable. Make sure to listen carefully, to seek out paperwork and seals of certified approval, no matter how friendly, seemingly harmless and honest these strangers seem. The nicer such individuals seem, the more important it is to seek a solid security in your situational relationship.

Role Playing Promoters

Brand’s will stop at nothing to advertise their products, including using actors posed as unbiased consumers placed strategically in order to persuade surrounding people. At publicity events, in shopping stores, at outdoor fairs and any environment wherein a brand is promoting a new product, watch out for super enthusiastic standers-by speaking at length about the merchandise at hand. One such actor, David Chambers, shared his experience of infiltrating a daytime show with audience participation entitled, The Wright Stuff, on Channel Five. Him and about thirty others participated in a web search engine survey to boost ratings and viewership. “We were there to plant subliminal messages,” he says. “It was all about inserting the key phrase, about freeing the information into the conversation. 

Planted Blog Writers

Just as Chambers explains with his Channel Five infiltration routine, online bloggers are often paid simply to sit and write pre-scripted reviews of merchandise and services, published to websites certain to garner consumer readership. More often than not, the first three or four reviews posted on a blog roll are entirely biased, planted testimonials set to polish the company’s electronic presence. Be sure to scroll down deep into the mix, where bloggers are unable to control the group’s comments.

Funeral Chasers and Charity Racket

Scammers know how to hit your soft spots and so funerals and charities seem logical points of entry for any entry level criminal. Funeral chasers utilize obituary announcements to detect who in a local community has recently passed away. They then send bills to the mourning family, apparently belonging to their passed beloved, requiring the family to make immediate payments on the debt of an item/items purchased prior to their death. Another form of sympathetic mail solicitation is the charity racket, designed to feed on victims too emotional to catch signs of fraud, much like the funeral tactic. If the cause sounds worthy, the seal looks legitimate, the pamphlet’s photos are moving and the envelope includes a pre-printed and stamped return for easy donations, more often than not, people fall for it. An easy way to detect mail order scammers is to call the State Department of Consumer Affairs and checking to see if the organization is authorized to solicit in your state. Moreover, always be sure to ask what percentage of your donation reaches the fundamental cause and for identification on both the charity and the solicitor. Though it may seem inconvenient or inconsiderate to be overly zealous in double checking your facts, most of us have by now found out the hard way that it’s certainly better safe than sorry.