Internet, phone, email, and mail scams are among the various scam techniques that operatives use to take your resources. Review this page to learn more about common scam techniques, and how to avoid them. Topics below include:
Buying and Selling Online
There's a difference between selling a $25 child's bicycle and a $10,000 diamond ring. Online ads can be a great place to get rid of stuff you no longer want or need, but there are risks in buying and selling from people you don't know. Some things - particularly expensive jewelry, electronics, and vehicles - involve different risks than selling a bookshelf or an electric drill.
There have been several high profile cases involving online ads, from robberies to murders. Recent "online ad" cases reported in Renton have included cell phones that were later found to be stolen, sale of a truck whose condition was falsified and, once paid for, involved an excessive shipping fee, and a diamond ring paid for with a cashier's check that was altered from $5 to $11,500. It's important to remember that most online ad sales go as planned and don't make the news. Regardless of the value of your item, putting your safety first is always the most important part of the transaction.
Personal Safety Tips:
Meet in a well populated public place, during daylight hours. Bring a friend with you if possible.
Consider setting up a "generic" email address that you use only for online buying/selling. It shouldn't contain personally identifying information.
Provide as little personal information as possible. If you're selling a coffee table, they don't need to know your address, how many children you have, etc. Be aware of how much personal information you're giving out through simply "casual conversation."
Ask for proof of ownership. If you're buying a cell phone, jewelry, a car, or most anything with a serial number, a legitimate seller should have proof of ownership. If they don't, there is the risk that the item is stolen. Can you still buy it from them? Sure - but you don't have any recourse if the phone is shut off a month later when it has been reported stolen.
Sell your expensive items at a brick-and-mortar business. You may get a lower price at a second hand jewelry store or at a used car lot than you would selling it yourself, but you will reduce the rusk of accepting a fraudulent check or bad bill. You may pay more for a used car or a refurbished cell phone at the store, but it's unlikely to get unexpectedly switched off or repossessed later.
There are several online companies that facilitate transactions between buyer and seller. There may be a fee involved, but it can be more secure than accepting a personal check (which may be forged, or may "bounce") or a cashier's check or money order (which can also be altered or forged).
Accepting cash is another option. You should take the time to get to know what security features are in each bill, and carefully check each bill for authenticity before handing your item over to the purchaser.
For expensive items - cars, jewelry, collectibles - it's especially important to confirm proof of ownership before making the purchase. The car title or jewelry appraisal paperwork should match the I.D. of the person conducting the sale. If it doesn't, walk away.
For large purchases, you don't have to depend on cash or a cashier's check. A legitimate seller or buyer will be willing to meet you at the their bank and withdraw cash, or purchase a cashier's check using their account, while you are there. If they're not willing to "prove" that they have the money, or they pooh-pooh your concerns and try to talk you out of taking precautions, you might want to reconsider doing business with that person.
IRS Scam Phone Calls
Your home phone rings and the caller claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service and that you owe them money and it is severely past due. The caller offers the opportunity to pay the amount over the phone using a credit card or debit card. The caller will be aggressive and insist that the "debt" be paid immediately, threatening to send a police officer to your home to arrest you. If the call is not answered, they leave an "urgent" callback request. The IRS reminds people that there is formal process in place for people with tax issues. The IRS respects taxpayer rights, and these angry, shake-down calls are not how we do business.” For additional tips on ways to spot suspicious calls, click here.
Fraudulent Websites and Email Solicitations
One particularly disturbing trend involves an increase in fraudulent websites or bulk email solicitations. They contain links to phony phisher websites that ask recipients to reveal sensitive information such as bank account, social security, or personal identification numbers. The look and feel of the email or the fake site so closely mimics the websites of legitimate, reputable companies such as eBay, Citibank, Washington Mutual, KeyBank, or Microsoft that they have successfully tricked many users into giving out sensitive personal information or infecting their own computers. Do not fall for these phony email requests. You will notice that they sometimes even go to the extent of putting the "secure site" logo on their pages. They want you to click on the links they provide within this email.
One example of this fraud is a new website that encourages people to purchase lists of registered sex offenders in Washington. A telemarketing company is trying to sell Western Washington residents lists of registered sex offenders, even though the lists are available for free. Residents are receiving automated calls warning that a sex predator has moved into their neighborhood and offering to sell a list of sex offenders living in their ZIP code.
A list and a map of registered sex offenders can be accessed through the Web site of the Washington Association of Sheriffs and Police Chiefs at http://ml.waspc.org. People without internet access can get the same information by visiting the Renton Police Department or their local Sheriff's office.
Lori Takahashi, spokeswoman for the Attorney General's Office, states they have not received any complaints about the automated calls, but they would like to hear from anybody who has received them. "It's clearly a violation of the Consumer Protection Act because this information is free," she said.
People who receive the calls can report them to the Attorney General's Office at (800) 551-4636.
Other recent scams include:
- BECU (Boeing Employees Credit Union)
The most recent one is an email offering you $20 if you take part in a "quick and easy" five question survey. The only thing quick and easy about this survey is how fast they will access your account and drain it of every cent you have! Remember, they can copy/cut/paste off of the original BECU banking site to make their internet pages look legitimate, including the copyright tag-line at the bottom and security statements/disclaimers. Do not fall for it!
- Qualstar Credit Union
The most recent I have seen is the threat to shut down your account due to suspicious activity or a "suspicious change of address request." Again, this is baloney and just a ploy to get you to clink on their bogus link to obtain your personal account information. If you feel your financial accounts may be in jeopardy, you should be contacting them directly, either by phone or in person, to check on the status of your account.
Victim is contacted via email by a (supposed) representative from QVC stating that his order was being processed and shipped. Since the victim had never purchased anything from QVC, he called the 800-number that was provided within the text of the email. Of course, the woman that answered was very helpful and offered to cancel his order--all he had to do was provide the number of his credit card! Luckily, this victim was a smart consumer and refused to provide the information and asked her to repeat the number that the item was charged to. She refused and hung up on him.
Medicare Scam Prevention Tips
- Check the list of Medicare-approved prescription drug plans. The list of approved plans and other information about the program are available at www.medicare.gov and by calling toll-free, (800) 633-4227 (TTY users should call (877) 486-2048). Medicare prescription drug plans, which will be offered by private companies and organizations, must meet specific federal standards and be approved by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services in the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS).
- If someone says you must join or you will lose your other Medicare benefits, it is a scam. The Medicare prescription drug benefit is voluntary. It supplements your other Medicare benefits.
- If someone asks for payment before November 15, 2005, it is a scam. The plans are allowed to begin advertising on October 1, 2005, but they are not allowed to begin enrolling people and asking for payments until November 15, 2005, which is the beginning of the six-month open enrollment period.
- Guard your personal information from identity thieves posing as sales people. Legitimate plans may ask for your Social Security number, but only when you are actually enrolling. And they may only ask for your credit card or bank account information if you are arranging to make automatic payments for your drug coverage from that account.
- If someone claims to be calling from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and asks for your bank account, credit card, or life insurance policy numbers, it is a scam. SSA will never ask for that information, and the only time someone calling from the SSA will ask for your Social Security number is if you applied for low-income assistance and the number you put on your application was not correct.
- Know the law on how Medicare prescription drug plans can be marketed. It is illegal for companies or organizations marketing Medicare drug plans to come to your door uninvited or to send you unsolicited emails. Companies and organizations can call to promote their drug plans, but it is illegal for them to sign people up during those calls. They must also obey telemarketing laws: it is illegal to call before 8:00 a.m. or after 9:00 p.m.; call people whose telephone numbers are on a state or the federal "do not call" registry (with some exceptions); or call people who have asked not to be called again. For more information about your telemarketing rights and to put your phone number on the federal "do not call" registry, go to www.donotcall.gov or call (888) 382-1222.
- Medicare prescription drug plans should come with no strings attached. Companies and organizations can offer modest prizes or gifts (but not cash) to promote their Medicare prescription drug plans. (For example, to people who attend a sales presentation.) But it is illegal to require anyone to join a drug plan in order to get a prize or gift.
- Do not be fooled by sales materials that look like they are from the government. Con artists often try to impress consumers with official-looking sales materials that look like they are from a government agency. Since it is private companies who are offering the plans, be skeptical about promotional materials claiming to come from the government.
- Do not confuse other types of drug coverage with Medicare prescription drug plans. Only plans approved by Medicare can be marketed as Medicare prescription drug plans. Approved plans will have a seal on their materials with "Medicare Rx" in large letters and "Prescription Drug Coverage" in smaller letters under that. Check with Medicare to make sure that the plan you are considering is approved.
Report suspected Medicare drug plan scams. Call the Office of Inspector General at the Department of Health and Human Services, (800) 447-8477, TTY (800) 337-4950 (information about the Medicare drug plans is not available at these numbers). You can also report Medicare-related fraud by sending an email to HHSTips@oig.hhs.gov or writing to Inspector General, HHS, Attention: Hotline, 330 Independence Avenue SW, Washington, DC 20201.
Notification Card for Package Pick Up Scams
I received a tip from a Rolling Hills resident who had a card left at her door stating that she had a package that needed to be picked up. The card looks similar to the notices left by the Postal Service, but way down at the bottom of the card (in very, very, very small print) it states: "An Adv. Promotion of Millennium Systems, Distributors of environmental Products for home and industry." This resident also informed me that this same card was left at doors throughout the neighborhood. I decided to give the number a call and find out what the deal was.
The woman that answered the phone stated that "somebody in my household" had filled out an "Air Quality Questionnaire" and in doing so, had qualified my household to enter into a "contest" and my name had been drawn so I was a lucky winner. (No, I did not bring to her attention that several of these cards had been handed out and that I had definitely not filled out any type of "Air Quality Questionnaire.") Now keep in mind this is not a "normal" scam because they are actually offering you a gift--but in return they want your time to pitch a portable air filtration system called, "The Vortech." They want you to make an appointment for one of their salespeople to come to your house to tell you about this great new product (cough, cough--I have a feeling these types of companies are not doing criminal background checks on these salespeople, so why on earth would we allow a perfect stranger to come into our home)?
So if you received one of these cards, it is just a new take on an old sale pitch that came in the form of a "package pick-up" notification card that is very similar to those you receive from the United States Postal Service. Bothersome, but not against the law so just throw it away if you are not interested.
It is a good example of how creative some companies can get when it comes to selling products that we, as a consumer, really do not need or want. But for those folks that are a little more vulnerable to this type of sales tactic, it would be a good idea to inform those neighbors around you what you have learned on this web page.
Important Information On Nigerian Scam Targets
The newest version of the Nigerian scam targets consumers who have an item to sell listed on the Internet. Below is a typical scenario of the Nigerian counterfeit cashier's check scam, which has surfaced in the last six to eight months in the United States.
A seller lists an item on the Internet--a classic car, purebred animal, etc. The seller receives an offer to buy the item at or above the asking price from a buyer, usually from Nigeria or "West Africa," who agrees to send the seller a bank cashier's check. The buyer then advises the seller that he is owed money from a third party in the U.S. in an amount greater than what he owes seller. The buyer offers to send the cashier's check to the seller for the full amount, and asks that the seller send him the balance, "after the check clears, of course".
Generally, the sellers are skeptical but, in the scam, an authentic-looking U.S. bank cashier's check arrives by Federal Express. The seller's bank accepts the check and assures the seller that the funds are available. The seller wires the balance to the buyer and prepares to ship the item.
Usually, within a week, the bank contacts the seller to say that the cashier's check is counterfeit and worthless. The seller's account may be frozen, and the bank requires payment to cover the counterfeit check. The seller may even be suspected of fraud himself for passing the counterfeit check. The Secret Service warns that certain actions taken by individuals falling for these schemes, such as securing loans under false pretenses (ie. home equity, student loans) in order to send money to the advance fee suspects, could be construed as Bank Fraud and investigated accordingly.
While the items for sale may vary and the reasons given for sending a check in excess of the sale price may change, the bottom line is SELLER BEWARE!
Gift Card Scam
Crooks have now figured out a way to rob you of your gift card balance! If you buy gift cards from a display rack that is within reach of the general public, you could be come a victim of theft. Crooks are jotting down the card numbers, waiting a few days, then calling the 800-number to check how much of a balance is left. When they discover activated cards, they use the card numbers to buy merchandise on the store's website. Here are some steps you can take to prevent this from happening to your gift cards:
- Given a selection of prepaid gift cards displayed on an open rack versus ones kept behind a customer service counter, the latter is the safer choice.
- Gift cards with a "scratch off" on the back to cover the ID number are the safest, because you can tell right away if the card has been tampered with.
- Only purchase gift cards directly from the store. There are online sites where you can swap unwanted gift cards, but they often turn out to be stolen or counterfeit.
- Always keep your receipt, because most retailers will replace your card if it has been lost or stolen.
Other Scam Topics of Interest Reported to the Renton Police Department
Scams Against the Elderly
Reported Scams 2000-2002
Scams trends tend to cycle back and repeat themselves over the course of a few years. Review this information to read about common scams a few years ago.
International Alpha Lottery Scam
Spanish Lottery Scams
Contact the Crime Prevention Coordinator