Six months ago, I wrote about scam artists who try to convince parents and grandparents across the country to send them money to spring their children or grandchildren from jail or pay for their hospitalization following non-existent jailings, auto accidents or other assorted life-threatening misfortunes.
In an October 2016 column, I reported that I also was the target of such a ruse. I received a telephone call from a man who said that my grandson, one of my three grandchildren, had been jailed in Tijuana and that he, the scammer, could have my grandson released by his jailers if I sent him $5,000 via a Western Union money order.
I knew that my grandson was home at the time on his university’s spring break, and I hung up on the caller. I told Tim Johnston, president of the Northern Nevada Better Business Bureau (BBB) of the attempted scam, and he said it was rapidly proliferating and that many Americans have fallen for this subterfuge by sending large amounts of money to the tricksters.
Two or three weeks ago, I received a BBB “Risk Index” from Johnston that lists several other scams which also are popular with scammers. They include the home improvement, employment, online purchase and advanced fee scams, according to the BBB.
Home improvement scams, which rated number one on the Risk Index, are the only scams that rely on on-person contact. Because of the highly personal nature of this scam, in which the unsuspecting homeowner actually finds the scammer on his or her doorstep, the susceptibility rate and amount of loss have been very high, making it the riskiest scam of all, says the BBB.
The home improvement scam involves door-to-door solicitors who offer quick, low-cost home repairs but require the homeowner to pay up-front money for the purchase of construction materials. The scammers then leave with the money, but instead of buying the supplies and returning to do the job, they take off, never to be seen again, warns the BBB.
Employment scams relate to persons who apply to job offers advertised on Internet sites that promise high salaries and rapid promotions. But money must first be sent for “training” or “equipment” before the job is actually offered. Once the money has been sent to the scammer, that’s the last you’ll hear from him and the exciting new employment opportunity he offered.
Online purchase scams involve those made on direct seller-to-purchaser Internet sites. Once you send money for the item you think you have purchased, you’ll never receive the product you paid for and you’ll be crying “by-bye to my money.”
Advance fee scams apply to loans you have applied for on the Internet. The scammers tell you that you have been approved for the loan, but before the money is sent to you, you must pay up-front charges such as “taxes” and “processing fees.” Not only do you lose this money to the crooks, of course, but you never receive the loan you applied for.
Another scam cited by the BBB particularly intrigues me because it is so blatant and brazen.
Called the romance scam, it involves online dating and the use of social media which has made it easier than ever to meet new people and find dates. Unfortunately, this scam has attracted scammers by the hundreds... or maybe thousands. Con artists working this scam create compelling backstories and full-fledged identities, then trick you into falling for someone who doesn’t even exist. This form of deception is also known as “catfishing,” says the BBB.
Most romance scams start with fake profiles on online dating sites created by stealing photos and text from real accounts or elsewhere. Scammers often claim to be in the military or working overseas to explain why they can’t meet you in person. Over a short period of time, however, the scammer builds a fake relationship with you, exchanging photos and romantic messages, even speaking with you on the phone or through a webcam.
Just when the relationship seems to be getting hot and serious, your new “sweetheart” has a sudden health issue, family emergency or wants to visit you and needs travel and clothing expenses. No matter what the story may be, the request is always the same: Your new online boyfriend or girlfriend needs money! But after you send off the money, there’s another request. And then another. When you realize you’ve been fooled and/or your money supply has dried up, the scammer stops communicating altogether. Alas, Cupid and the new love of your life have left you in the lurch. Tears flow. You ask yourself, “How could I have been so stupid and vulnerable?”
How can the romance scam be discovered and thwarted?
Be wary of someone who always has an excuse to postpone meeting you. People interested in a relationship naturally want to meet the person they are corresponding with on the Internet. Be wary of someone who is constantly “traveling” or happens to be “overseas.” Never send money for travel or medical expenses when your new online friend has an “emergency” or finally wants to meet you in person. Never reveal personal financial and banking information to someone you have not met in person.
Take note if your new romantic interest has a photo that doesn’t match his or her initial online profile. Most people fib in their dating profiles, adding inches in height and subtracting pounds in weight. Be on the lookout for big discrepancies. For example, a scammer may describe her fake persona as blonde but she uses a photo of a brunette. And suspect anyone who says he or she has fallen in love with you sight unseen... and then asks for money!
For more information on how to recognize scams and protect yourself from them, go to Google on your computer and type in “BBB scam alerts.” Tim Johnston at the Northern Nevada BBB office, which is located in Sparks, may be contacted at 775-322-0657.
David C. Henley is Publisher Emeritus of the LVN.