More Nevadans suckered by scam artists |

More Nevadans suckered by scam artists

David C. Henley
Nevada Appeal News Service

Famed 19th century showman and circus owner P.T. Barnum is credited with uttering the memorable quote, “There’s a sucker born every minute.”

Here in Northern Nevada, the birth of suckers is becoming more prevalent because of the financial crisis gripping the state and nation.

According to the Northern Nevada office of the Better Business Bureau, an increasing number of desperate, cash-strapped Nevadans are falling prey to “outlandish and fraudulent” get-rich schemes that have cost them their life savings and the contents of their bank accounts, says Tim Johnston, president of the BBB’s Reno office.

Hit by job losses, home foreclosures and the stock market’s collapse, many Nevadans are “grasping at straws” and becoming victims of online, mail and fax scams that target “the innocent and gullible,” reports Johnston.

These scams come in many forms.

One scheme currently being foisted on unsuspecting and naive citizens has been labeled the “secret shopper” scam. It involves sending e-mail messages that promise to give cash rewards to individuals if they become “secret shoppers” by visiting well-known stores to monitor employee helpfulness, promptness and sincerity.

Gullible shoppers are provided checks to buy merchandise at the stores and then told to return the goods for cash, then send most of the money to the scammers by Western Union or moneygram and keep several hundred for themselves.

“The checks, of course, are worthless, and the unsuspecting citizen falling for the scheme is required by the bank to make good on the check,” Johnston said.

Another scam related to schemers sending E-mail or faxes to residents that claim they can save thousands of dollars on income taxes by trusting their funds with unscrupulous tax preparation firms.

“One woman in Washoe County lost $10,000 through this scam,” Johnston said.

Many who are out of work and seeking new contacts for employment or looking for solace from friends and relatives have become scam victims after registering with social networking sites such as Facebook and MySpace, he said.

“Social networking is extremely popular because it allows us to connect and reconnect with people we know and trust. But scammers take advantage of that trust in order to learn our bank and credit card numbers by monitoring our Internet activity,” Johnston said.

Johnston cautions people placing their names on social networking sites never to divulge their credit card or bank information on the Web, not share phone numbers and addresses and refuse requests for friendship if one doesn’t actually know the person seeking that information.

“While a user might not want to be rude, it’s best to keep personal information private,” he cautioned.

Another fraud, the notorious “Nigerian e-mail scam” that has cost thousands of people millions of dollars in Nevada and throughout the world is flourishing as well.

Also known as the “advance fee fraud,” it involves a message sent from a seemingly desperate person to a gullible Internet user asking help in transferring money out of Nigeria or another African nation into the United States.

Individuals of the scam are promised a “fee” for obliging in transferring these “trapped” funds to the U.S. ” if they promise to send some of the money back to Africa and divulge their credit card and banking information.

Many Nevadans are the recipients of such Nigerian e-mail scams, according to Dave Czapienski, compliance audit investigator at the Nevada Consumer Affairs Division’s Reno office.

“It’s just common sense not to fall for such schemes. If you are promised something for nothing, you usually get nothing. If it sounds too good to be true, it’s not true,” he said.

An Oregon nursing administrator and CPR instructor recently lost her life savings after she sent a $400,000 “fee” to a Nigerian scammer after being promised $20.5 million in helping what turned out to be a fictitious relative transfer his money from Africa to the United States.

“Nigerian e-mailers target the elderly because they tend to be more trusting, and the religious, because they have been seduced by scammers professing to be ministers, Czapienski added.

“It’s hard to believe, but people of all socioeconomic and educational backgrounds fall for these schemes and scams. As long as there are gullible and unsuspecting persons in the world, the frauds will continue,” Johnston said.