Cole Delavergne is a .net developer and programmer with a BS in computer science.
The Rise of Con Artists and Scammers
Are scams and scammers a product of the new generation? Many baby boomers say this, but none can justify the claim. The art of scams goes back 4,000 years. Theft has been around for a very long time, and no amount of hand chopping-off, killing, hanging, or jailing has ever stopped it. Scamming hasn't grown; it has merely obtained access to more natural platforms that can reach out to greater communities than ever before.
In this article, we are going to take a look at how scam artists are reaching more people. First, we have to consider that the most successful scams work differently by class. For instance, scamming a person on unpaid payday loans is likely to work better on lower- to lower-middle-class people. Timeshare scams and property scams are more likely to work on the educated and more powerful upper class. This holds true with stock and investment scams as well as pyramid schemes.
My father laughs at people who email money to a Nigerian prince, but I have to remind him that he invested in Enron. Finally, seniors are more likely to fall for threats involving loved ones or themselves without ever checking the validity of the information. People who pay their bills on time almost take it as an insult that a new and sudden expense exists; they are more likely to fall for scams than those who get collections calls all the time.
Let's look at some of the most common scams and discuss ways to avoid them.
1. The IRS Scam
Scammers like to pose as the IRS to get your contact and personal information and get you to pay money you don't owe. This scam is based on fear. The caller will always claim that several attempts to contact you have been made. The caller will then become aggressive and may even know some of your personal information. The caller may make threats such as "our agents are ready to come get you at work." These are not always people with foreign accents. In fact, it's not uncommon for an Indian-sounding man to "transfer" you to a person who sounds like your typical American police officer who says that he is on his way and that unless you resolve the problem before he arrives, you will be arrested at home, work, wherever.
You will then be transferred back to the original caller, who will seem very eager to help you avoid arrest. The scammer will request you buy gift cards—Money Pak Green Cards are popular with scammers—to pay your bill, and while this would typically throw a ton of red flags, the thought of the police being on their way seems to interfere with a rational thought process.
The scammer will take down the information for the gift cards and exchange them online for currency to fake accounts. They will then withdraw that money from the fake account, and the scam is complete. It may seem like a lot to do for $300–$3,000, but in countries like India, $300 can last a person months.
Red Flags for This IRS Scam
- The IRS has called you. The IRS will never call you and rarely send emails asking you to contact them. The IRS will only send you official mail as communication. If you decide to contact the IRS, you should do so by using the phone number provided by the official IRS website, IRS.gov. The less you make, the less likely it is that you will ever hear from the IRS. Anyone making under six figures is not likely to get contacted by mail unless there is an auditor nonpayment issue. They will always offer time to pay and talk about your settlement options prior to escalating action. This process usually takes years, not a few minutes over the phone.
- The IRS seems angry/aggressive. The IRS won't get an attitude with you unless you get one with them. They are ordinary people who do a job. They will never threaten to imprison you or arrest you at work. These are tactics used by LEO for parking tickets, sadly. You will know your status with the IRS long before an arrest. This operation oversees trillions of dollars in refunds. Do you logically think $300–$3,000 will make them angry with you?
- They transfer you to someone. The IRS isn't going to send you to a cop to PROVE they are real. If you asked them to clarify the validity of their all, they would advise you to hang up and call the official 800 number on the IRS.gov website. If the agent can't do this and tells you that you must call some other number, then they're a scammer.
- Do they want gift cards? Yes, scammers want gift cards because they are quickly turned into cash while being hard to trace online. The process of converting a gift card into cash or another gift card makes it hard to track and is somewhat of a free money laundering service that scammers exploit. Scammers stick to Western Union, PayPal, and Gift Cards for a reason. These forms of payments are barely regulated and may not be regulated at all in their country of origin.
2. Police Scams
The next scam involves someone acting as a police officer. These scams commonly target you late at night and include relatives. A scammer may find out online that you have a daughter who is away at college. He may call and insist that your daughter was involved in a hit-and-run and unless damages are paid, she will be arrested and charged with felonies. The "officer" may take your credit card number but is more likely to request you immediately Western Union him the funds in exchange for resolution of the matter. This scam has an alarming success rate. Perhaps it slows the victim's wits that the call comes in at 3 AM and scammers send fake caller ID information to make it appear they are calling from the police department.
How to Avoid the Police Scam
- Ask the officer his name, badge number, and department, then tell him you will call back. Call the actual police department phone number, give the department the details the officer gave you, and ask to be transferred to speak with him. At his point, the police should verify this is a scam.
- That's it! You have to call the police department. In the US, legitimate calls like this will never happen; if your daughter left a car accident scene, the police would find her, regardless of whether her or your insurance would cover the bill because she broke the law. If your loved one is away in a country like Mexico and you get a call like this, then you should make several attempts to contact your loved one or request to speak to them. If callers cannot produce a person to speak with, then do not pay a dime.
3. Payday Loan Scams
These scams are the best! The following is an actual email I recently received from one of these scammers:
ACE DEBT <email@example.com>
6:49 AM (5 hours ago)to bcc: meCase No: ACS-08/74312 Balance Amount: $970.85 Case File Transferred to ACS: - April 2017
Dear Customer, Having checked your Social Security Number through our National Checking Database System, and finding out that you have been never charged for a fraud activity, ACS has decided to give you a chance to take care of this issue outside of the Court without you having a report on your Credit History and SSN. In order to avoid a lawsuit of $2873.81 against you, we request you to kindly pay the Court Restitution Amount which is $970.85. If you settle this matter today, you may be entitled to get some percentage of deduction on the restitution amount. You will have to send us a promissory note in order to hold your case file from being sent to the court house. On a case to case basis, you may be given the solution to pay 45-55% of the pending amount in the same month & a 30 days extension to settle the rest of the settlement amount as mutually agreed. As we were unable to reach you so we are sending you this final notification through email. This legal matter will require your cooperation, so kindly get in touch with the department to make a payment and freeze down this case. As you are a defaulter on this credit, the following counts are likely to be represented against you at local County Courthouse: (1) VIOLATION OF FEDERAL BANKING REGULATION (2) COLLATERAL CHECK FRAUD (3) THEFT BY DECEPTION Once the court action is initiated and a Judgment / Decree against you to recover the balance amount with the cost of law suit is received, we may need to ask the court to give one of the following order, should the debt remains unpaid:- · Attachment of Earnings base (Earnings Arrestment). Deduction from your wage by your employer or arrestment of part of your salary to satisfy the debt.· Warrant of Execution (Exceptional Attachment Order). Seizure and sale of movable non-essential assets / property by a County Court Bailiff /Sheriff Officer. If you are under any state probation or payroll we need you to inform your reporting officer or manager about what you have done in the past and what would be the consequences once the case has been downloaded and executed in your name. If we do not hear from you within 48 hours of the date on this letter, we will be compelled to seek legal representation .We reserve the right to begin litigation for intent to commit wire fraud under the pretense of refusing to repay a debt committed to, by use of the internet and your SSN. In addition we reserve the right to seek recovery for the balance due, as well as legal fees and any court cost incurred. The Factual Basis for the complaints are as follows: You accepted to return the funds from this aforementioned pending loan. And as per the agreement the funds have yet to be returned and the collateral has proven to be null that is to say of no value. At present, ACS INC is seeking either of the following remedies:-All funds to be returned as per terms of initial contract. Dear debtor, as we were investigating your profile credit bureau & social security administration we need some right answers from your side. Also we would like to know when you can pay the requested $970.85 to settle this case.
To resolve this issue contact us during the working hours Monday to Saturday 09:00 AM to 05:00 PM EDT by reply back to this E-mail to get in touch with the representative.
The above email shows how far scammers will go to scam you out of money. The emails can be scary, and they usually check out when you search for specific information contained in them. The scammers use the names of real lawyers and real business firms. There are, however, some serious issues with these emails. You don't have to know the law to figure them out.
- The first issue is that this was sent from a Gmail account. A law firm would never use a Gmail, Yahoo, AOL, .net, or .org account to send you an email.
- The next issue is that the contact information for them is so vague. The only way to contact them is to email them back. A real law office would provide a professional-looking email address with their full contact information, including office locations, city, and state.
- The last way to spot this as a scam is to notice that none of the footer links work. You can't see the original email, but I can. The original is filed with footer information links, and none of them work. Most are not even clickable.
So how do these scam artists get your email? The answer is from third-party lenders. While third-party lenders may connect you to real lenders, the fact is that anyone paying for that loan request information will receive it. Meaning if "ACE" in the email above pays $1 per person, the third-party company will send them the information. ACE, now knowing you needed a payday loan, will wait until your loan is past due and send you bogus emails threatening suit and prison time. They will then offer you a "deal" for a few hundred dollars and take your money and run.
Use the BBB website and Google reviews before ever using a third-party lender to ensure they do not sell your information to non-lenders. The scams can be haunting.
I suggest you never include your real work number. These scammers will get this information and call you at work. I know of one story online in which ACE, the company in the email above, called a man's employer several times a day. His boss informed him that he was getting upset and made the mistake of telling the scammer that he should stop or he would get him fired. The scammer then threatened to call every minute until he was fired or he paid the money. The man lost his job the next day.
Ways to Avoid this Scam
- Apply to direct lenders only. If you must take a payday or installment loan, make sure it's from an actual lender.
- Read the email and look for flaws and errors. Google the company name. "ACE" in the email above comes back with many scam reports and a fake company.
- Real collection companies use these tactics too! Even if you find out that the debtor or the companies involved are actual, that doesn't mean what they are saying is true. A company can sue you for the money you owe. However, if you did not write them a physical check, they can not claim fraud. You breached a financial agreement, and that is a civil court matter. You will not go to jail or be arrested. The only time this is possible is if you wrote an actual physical check for the loan amount.
Well, we've looked at the fear scams that use threats to try to get you to pay up. Some of these debts you may owe, and some of these calls may come from a real company. It doesn't change the fact that these threats don't have real force and are just made to extract money from you. In the next section, we will look at some different types of scams that do not use such aggressive tactics.
Different scams involve different tactics. Those who are not great at scaring others may be great at tricking others. This is where other scammers focus their efforts. These scammers have more sophisticated operations that are scripted to offer the best chance of completing the scam successfully. Let's take a look at a few of the best scams available.
4. "This Is Microsoft Customer Support."
As a computer scientist, I have fun when people call with this scam. I have even tricked people into giving me access to their computers. The common theme with this scam is that Microsoft has received a message indicating that you have spyware, adware, or other issues with your computer. Sometimes they will call claiming to be the 'geek squad' or even call claiming to be your ISP and saying you have a virus that is using too much network bandwidth.
How skilled the person is at scamming determines how likely people are to fall for this scam. Most scripted scammers are horrible with IT-related issues and follow a script and training they were shown on how to scam you. Some of these scammers, however, can be very tech savvy and seem to be legit with their wording and tactics, even going off script to look more realistic.
The common theme is this: The person will ask you to remote connect to them using various software or web software. They will then open a command prompt after hitting control alt delete (or they may skip that) and run a simple task. As that task completes, they will paste into the command prompts something like "C:\Windows.System32\Trojan.CS WARNING! VIRUS FOUND TROJAN VIRUS! PLEASE RUN SOFTWARE TO FIX THIS ISSUE." They will do this so fast that It will seem as if the scan they are doing prompted the message. This is part of the script. You may have been skeptical, but at this point, your reaction will change because your COMPUTER just told you that you do have an issue. The reality is they used misdirection to plant the phony line of information.
At this point, they will try to convince you that your private information is available and your computer is being used as a drone to hack other computers. While there are some Trojans that do this, a console line scan will not find this issue; it will require much more technical work to find and fix this problem. It's true that hackers use personal and company computers to assist with Denial Of Service (DOS) attacks and the hacking of other systems. However, you cannot be held responsible for such attacks, despite what the scammer will suggest. The scammer will then recommend a fixed price that you could pay, and they will offer to clean your machine. At this point, they could install phony and even harmful software on your computer that requires you to pay to keep your computer running decently.
How to Avoid This Scam
- Microsoft will never call you. No one will call you. The only person who knows something is wrong with your device is you. Your computer may have protection, but it doesn't work like ADT or home security; it protects you in real-time. If you have serious issues, you may end up trying to call Microsoft, but good luck getting ahold of anyone. Geek Squad will never call you unless it's to offer you some promotion.
- If your computer wasn't showing signs of any issues to you, then there is nothing wrong. Do not let these scammers talk you into giving them access to your personal computer.
- Run Protect. A few free programs that work well and will help you with your computer are Spybot, Malwarebytes, and Avast. Make sure to download these from the actual website where they are released. Run these scans along with Windows bit defender, and if nothing comes up, there is likely no issue with your computer.
- If you're concerned, hire a Tech to investigate your computer. I used to offer remote assistance with my business, and for $30, I would check your computer, speed it up, remove viruses or help with software issues. Try to find a "Remote Assistance Tech" on your local craigslist or online. If all else fails, add me and send me a message. I'll do it for a lot cheaper than the $250 a scammer is going to charge you to mess your computer up.
5. You've Been Selected for a Government Grant
This scam usually targets college students and small business owners but can target anyone. A scammer calls claiming to work with the US Government. He gives you a number to call and talk to another scammer. This other person asks for your personal information to ensure you can receive the grant. From there, they may ask you to pay taxes upfront on the grant or say they will make a small withdrawal and then a hefty deposit for your winnings. The scammer will then get you to consent to a withdrawal so they can take whatever amount they choose from your account. This will display an ordinary debt and can be challenging, but you will likely lose this challenge due to the terms you agreed to (and had no idea existed).
How to Avoid This Scam
- The government will never call you and offer a grant. If you were ever to be selected to receive additional funding, you would be notified by FAFSA or us. Gov via official email or letter. You will never have to pay to receive your grant, and all funds will be mailed to you via check.
- If you haven't applied for a grant, then you cannot be selected for it
- If anyone claiming to be from the Government ever calls you, ask what division they are in and for their extension. Tell them you will call them back on the number listed online as the official number. If they say you can not do that, then hang up. It's an apparent scam.
6. You've Won!
This isn't always a Nigerian lottery scam. Sometimes you will receive emails or letters from seemingly official sweepstakes and lottery centers. These scammers will attempt to convince you that you have won a share of a prize. The objective of this scam is to get as much personal information from you as possible. Ultimately, they will ask for your social security number in an attempt to steal your identity.
How to Avoid This Scam
- Did you even enter the contest they allege you won? If you haven't, then there is no way you could have won it. They do not pick people at random out of the US population to win prizes. You would have had to have signed up.
- You would have gotten an official mail from the company stating that you had won. A form asking for any additional information would be attached. Never give away your Social Security number. Do not share bank details, but request that a check for any money you supposedly won be mailed to you instead.
- If you win Publishing Clearing House, or you win a car or other grand prize, the company will show up at your door and make a big event out of you winning. It is how they show they are legit and have done as they say.
The last scams we will discuss most people have heard of, but many are unsure what they are. These scams do pay some people, but in the end, they are unlikely to pay back anywhere near what you invested. You should learn how to recognize these scams and get away from them immediately. The following are examples of these scams and how to avoid them.
7. Pyramid Scam
This scam is classic. While many may think it's merely about selling overpriced soap products, others may realize that people have made billions off of this model. Most of them also went to prison and were sued. Few get away, and the ones that do get out and out of sight beforehand.
What is a pyramid scheme? Believe it or not, your usual lousy job isn't a pyramid scheme. You work for money, and you are paid what you agreed you were worth. If you are unhappy and feel stuck, or you can't advance, that's your issue; that doesn't make your job a scam.
What is a scam is when your job depends on getting more and more people involved. You join a company that sells something, you sign up and pay fees, then you are told to sign other people up and get "rewards" for that. Each year you have to pay to be able to sell accounts. The idea is to get people to sell for you to make money off of their work each month. But this is a pyramid scheme, and it rarely goes well.
The people at the top might get 20% of everything from everyone for free. Then, if you get six people to sign up for $30 extra per month, you get 20% of those payments, meaning you are making $90 a month. No work is required.
But when these companies stop growing, then people stop joining, and others let their memberships go. The result is you lose any ability to make any money, and the people who can do so take their money and run.
Don't get suckered by this. It's always a scam, and people who get scammed become scammers. Your personal friends will try to recruit you because they believe in the fraud.
How to Avoid This Scam
- Don't let family and friends push an 'opportunity' upon you. Even if they can show you positive income, do not fall for this. A real business creates a reliable and reusable product, and you are paid for production, not for recruiting more drones. You would not be required to pay into a real company.
- Think of the money required to start that venture. Take that money and invest it in a CD instead. You can safely get a return on that, and at the end of the day, you won't end up being scammed.
- Avoid people who are looking to get rich quick or have contemporary lifestyles. Often the people who fall for these scams and try to suck you in are your family or friends who were scammed themselves but don't know it yet. They will try to suck you into this amazing life that they do not have. Don't go, and please get them some help.
You can get a timeshare in Colorado and sell a portion of your winter time to pay for the timeshare! Okay, then what? On top of that, they take fees, and you are responsible for booking that time ahead of time. Otherwise, you lose it. The idea of a timeshare is excellent, in theory. The execution is horrible. Your timeshare is offered up several thousand times, and the truth is that there are only 365 days in a year. So how do 3000 people figure out whose day it is now? The fact is many get pushed out of slots while others are sucked in on the idea, only never really to use the share at all. Just walk away from this.
How to Avoid This Scam
- As soon as someone says "time share," hang up on them. This is my only advice. There is a reason people hate these calls. They are a money pit more than a scam, but we will include them as a scam because they are so promising yet such a letdown.
9. Investment Scams
Every now and then, you will find investments too good to be true. The truth is these "scams" are probably the hardest to detect. I remember when Bitcoin came out, and I was told to stay away from it by everyone on Earth. My gambling buddies loved it, though, and one of them bought hundreds of Bitcoin for less than a dollar each. In 2010, it became a lot harder to gamble online, and I bought a lot of Bitcoin for four to eight dollars each. The price had doubled, and I thought I would buy more. Yet later that year, the price crashed, and I was left with about $19 in Bitcoin in my account. I left it alone and moved to England. I quit using Bitcoin. Today those 15 coins I had left are worth over $30,000. Some believe they may be worth $10,000 each by 2022.
The moral here is that investments are a gamble that only sometimes works out. For me, I will sell my coins at about four to five thousand. I will not follow them to 10 thousand because I know they may never make it to that. Investment is about taking a chance and getting out when it's time.
One kind of investment scam involves [romissory notes. These scams attack those who are mainly retired. They offer a high return for little risk. The issue is that the money is rarely actually invested, and there is no return. The money is typically spent but never paid back as promised, leaving people stuck with nothing.
Currency exchange is another popular investment scam. Someone may claim that growth in India, for example, is so fast that if you buy that currency with US dollars, your investment will grow and allow you to buy more money. If you buy 10 rupees for a dollar in USD, you will get 5 dollars back when the rupee reaches half of the US dollar. Makes sense, right? Then you realize that the rupee is unstable and the country recently moved to a new currency which crashed the price of the rupee. The end result is a promising investment that had too much risk.
How to Avoid These Scams
- Instead of promissory notes, buy CDs. They are safe and return a decent amount of time. If you are older or retired, then your investments should be consolidated into safer investments. You do not have as much time to replace losses as you did when you worked.
- Currency exchanges work, but you need to take time and look into them. You will need to make moves on a currency based on current conditions and not be too trendy. The idea is to get in when a currency is swinging upward but get out before it hits its peak. This will require a lot of research. I don't recommend using a company or person for this research; do it yourself. Many investors have made lots of money using this method. Others have gone broke by not researching, making poor decisions, or letting others invest for them. Currency exchange should be a short-turnaround investment and not a long-term buy-in.
Scams Come in All Shapes and Sizes
Many types of scams exist that are related to financial investments, technology, grants, loans, and the IRS. Some use fear tactics, while others use impressive-sounding technical knowledge. Some are guys in Pakistan or India, while others are right here in the US; these people could be from Nigeria, or they could be your brother-in-law.
Take your time and remember some fundamental rules when dealing with scammers. If they make threats or add timelines, then they are trying to force you into a decision. Consult the police, do a Google search, and check with your bank before doing what they say. Research and you will always have the upper hand on scammers.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. Content is for informational or entertainment purposes only and does not substitute for personal counsel or professional advice in business, financial, legal, or technical matters.
© 2017 Cole Delavergne
NicoleRichards on May 25, 2017:
Great Article. I know many elderly people fall for these scams. Even one of my friends sadly paid to have his computer fixed. He paid more than the computer was worth because they convinced him there was a 'virus' in his network. Sad what people will do to get money.