Financial strain combined with busy lives can compromise the ability to make sound financial decisions. Are you a generous person with precious little time to research charities? Are you too busy to carefully monitor your online profile? If “yes” to any of these questions is your answer, then I caution you: be aware of these five financial scams.
The financial scams that we will review can be categorized as either “get ahead” scams or “help” scams.
In nearly 20 years of law practice emphasizing bankruptcy, I have been very impressed by the generosity of my clients. At the same time, my clients are generally hardworking people, and are exceptionally busy. They often provide substantial financial help to family as well as support to charitable causes like disaster relief, religious groups, or charitable organizations—sometimes in combinations. Balancing families, commitments to others, and workplace responsibilities, it is no wonder that my clients sometimes don’t take the time to investigate whether an opportunity or a request for help is truly legitimate, or whether it is an exploitative scam.
The “help” scams that touch the hearts of my generous clients make me sad. Unfortunately, the best of intentions and most generous of natures are exploited from time to time by unscrupulous shysters.
When it comes to “get ahead” scams, I sometimes sadly learn that their efforts, and drive to get ahead financially have been exploited by equally shady characters.
Both types of scammers are very active now. They know that many innocent, good-natured people may have a little extra cash this spring. The scammers step up their efforts in late February, March, and April because their targets may receive federal tax refunds.
Even if you aren’t expecting a tax refund this year, you may still be a target for the scammers. The “get ahead” variety will attack whatever funds you’re willing to part with in the hopes of investing in bettering your life in some way.
We all remember the old internet email scams of yesterday; clumsily written, and misspelled email come-ons offering huge windfalls in exchange for helping some long-lost offspring of exiled monarchs move a still larger fortune from some small country to ours with your help. All you need provide is a complete personal dossier that enables identity theft and a raid on your bank accounts.
Today’s newer scams are often better written, and sound more plausible, than the offers of a huge commission for helping someone move funds from overseas. These new scams are still every bit as dangerous to your family’s finances and identity as those that originated in the mid-90s.
Let me ask you three difficult questions:
- If you are under either financial stress or have an unexpected need for income, would you consider an offer to “get ahead” quick?
- Has your good nature and willingness to sacrifice a bit of your worldly goods—perhaps feelings of guilt for the conditions that you see the needy in when compared to your own—led you to consider doing something—anything—that could “help”. You may feel that you are either too busy or that it is rude to question the veracity of those who make such plaintive entreaties for urgent financial help?
- Are you too preoccupied or does it seem too confusing to properly monitor your profiles on social media? Unprotected, open profiles provide scammers the best hunting grounds for opportunities and information.
If you don’t consider yourself at risk in any of the aforementioned areas, do you know of a friend or loved one who might be financially pressed or overly generous, and may more easily fall prey to one of the scams we described above? If under financial strain, you can always contact with us for a free and confidential consultation. If a friend or loved one is in need, we welcome you to accompany them so that you can provide moral support and encouragement. After all, that is why we have friends—for support and encouragement.
If you or a friend or loved one owes money on medical bills, taxes, credit cards, collections or court fines, by all means call us. If you or a friend or loved one is struggling under the weight of a costly mortgage or vehicle payment, then please come in for a consult. Don’t fall prey to the allure of a scammer’s “get ahead” story.
The Five “Big Ones”: The Hottest Scams of 2012-2013
- Over payment/Fake Check/Car Ad scams: – A “get ahead” scam. The online ad says: “Get Paid Just for Driving Around”—naming a prominent and reputable company offering $400 or more per week to drive around with the company’s logo on signage placed on your vehicle. The scammers are convincing; they even mail you a check with strict instructions to wire-transfer part of the money to the “appointed” graphic designer who will create, customize, and deliver the advertising banners which will be later mailed to you for placement upon your vehicle. When the check mailed to you bounces a week later, the “graphic designer” is long gone, you are out the money which you wired over to the “graphic designer”, and you have a nice overdraft situation to deal with at your local friendly bank or credit union. Exasperating!
- Emergency Scam: Grandchild or friend in trouble overseas! Help! I am in London and lost my wallet so can’t even pay for a phone call to explain, so I am contacting you by text message or email to send me $500 (or more) by wire transfer. Some nice person lent me their computer or this text messaging capable cell phone which can’t make nor accept overseas calls. That’s why—and how—I am able to contact you only by text message or through this new email account I just set up at the local Internet cafe. I need to pay an overdue hotel bill, and to make travel arrangements, so if you could please wire $500.00… You get the picture of course.
Thanks to social media sites, the scammers can feed you back a more plausible story by extracting personal details from your social media profile. For example, you might receive a very factually specific “help” scam message like, “Yeah, remember the video camera Jane got me for Christmas? I was so excited to take that new video camera I received last Christmas on this spontaneous trip to Denmark. I am so bummed that just after arriving, I was mugged, lost my cash, credit cards, and phone, and I can’t even pay my hotel bill. By the way, not paying your hotel bill here in Denmark is punishable by imprisonment. They have given me two hours to get the funds to pay the hotel bill or else the Danes are going to imprison me along with a huge bail obligation I won’t ever be able to afford.”
“Emergency” is an old “help” scam, but the new twist is that real events and names are used in the communication to make it more believable. This information is skimmed from unguarded social networking profiles.
- Mystery Shopping: a “get ahead” scam. Mystery shopping can be legitimate, but to learn how it really works, visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association www.mysteryshop.org site. You might avoid falling prey to a scam.
The mystery shopping scam is really just a variation of the over payment fake check scam described above. As a scam, the mystery shopping “employer” hiring you first sends you a check. As your first project, you are assigned to “evaluate” the customer service quality of a money transfer wiring service. You are supposed to cash the check on your own bank account, then you are to wire back some significant portion of the proceeds to the mystery shopping “employer”. They toss in a legitimate sounding requirement to complete a questionnaire about the money transfer wiring service staff—whether they were professional and courteous, etc.
When the check you received from your mystery shopping “employer” bounces, and you are left holding the bag for a large overdraft obligation, you will realized that you are the victim of a scam. Good luck tracking down your mystery shopping “employer” to make good on the bounced check.
- Advance Fee/Prepayment scam: a “get ahead” scam. We all need a little extra cash from time to time to provide for family or household needs. The fraudsters know this. Watch out for “no credit check” or “easy repayment terms” for a loan advertised online. You will find there is a catch to such a great deal in that you have to first send in a payment for a “loan insurance policy” or to “secure” or “process” your loan.
Of course, once you send in the payment for the “loan insurance policy” or to “secure” the loan or to “process” the loan, you learn that there was never any loan to be made, and you have lost the funds you paid.
- Charitable contribution to help those who suffered through tragic events: a “help” scam. Now, this one is really sick. While not necessarily a financial benefit/gain scam, it is among the lowest of the low. Reports abound of entreaties through social media and email seeking donations which are (falsely) dedicated to the suffering victims and their families. There has allegedly been at least one FBI arrest related to one of the many scams preying upon national sympathy for the Sandy Hook Elementary School victims.
If you do wish to donate to Sandy Hook Elementary related causes, perhaps you should first review the Better Business Bureau’s Wise Giving Alliance site www.bbb.org/us/charity to help you confirm that a charitable organization that interests you is legitimate.
Incautious generosity, financial strain, and family/work time pressures can lead to scam vulnerability and potentially to a financial disaster. Take the time to think carefully. Am I or someone I know truly vulnerable to a “financial gain” or a “help” scam? You may still be confused about some aspect of these offers, or some other major financial decision that could have life changing consequences. If so, a free 30 minute consultation with me, consumer/small business bankruptcy attorney James H. MaGee may be of help. Every situation is different, and the options may vary according to the details of the case, but as it is a free 30 minute consultation, why not take advantage of my expertise with no obligation?
Rebuilding the financial foundation for your life after falling behind on bills, or after a life changing event, is complex, no two cases are exactly alike. I may be able to help you understand your situation more clearly; I can certainly help you by discussing certain trade-offs and options concerning your situation, including bankruptcy chapters and their applicability to your situation. You can email my scheduler through our website for your free 30 minute consultation at www.washingtonbankruptcy.com or e-mail directly at [email protected]. To schedule immediately, you can reach a member of our friendly staff by calling at (253) 383-1001. Our office hours are Mondays through Thursdays, 9 AM until 5:45 PM, and on Fridays from 9 AM until 12 PM.