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Beware scammers (01/15/2014)
By Frances Edstrom


There’s a sucker born every minute. And a con man every half-minute. It’s hard for the good guys to stay ahead of the bad guys.

The Better Business Bureau releases accounts of current scams on a regular basis. Trouble is, the message about the scam always comes after any number of us have fallen for it.

Today, the BBB released a list of the “Top Ten” scams of 2013.

They were:

Ransomware – Always be wary of emails from senders you don’t know, and never open or download attachments unless you’re sure you know what it is and that it’s safe. Even if the email is ostensibly from a friend, if it seems odd, check it out with your friend before opening it.

Utility schemes – Consumers receive calls saying their power will be shut off unless a payment is made immediately; always contact your utility company directly.

Housing rental scams – People find a rental at an unbelievable rate on sites such as craigslist, but discover – after wiring the security deposit or first month’s rent away – that the ad they saw was a phony.

Sweepstakes/Lottery scams – A notice saying you’ve won a huge cash prize arrives through the mail, email or via a phone call. All you have to do is pay taxes, insurance or fees and the ‘prize’ will be yours. If you have to pay anything to claim your winnings, you haven’t won anything.

Bogus collection calls – The phone rings and people are told they owe money and unless they make an immediate payment, they’ll be arrested; legitimate debt collectors cannot make threats like this.

Pet Scams – People find websites claiming to offer purebred puppies for free, or very cheap. However, transfer fees have to be wired to release the puppy or payment has to be made to a third-party shipper; pet scams are common online.

Mystery shopping offers – People receive mailed solicitations, accompanied by sizable checks, to become mystery shoppers; checks are bogus.

Phishing scams – Scammers attempt to obtain personal financial information from people through emails claiming to be from trusted senders, such as banks or major retailers. However, the emails contain attachments with viruses or links, which can install malware on your computer.

Tech Support Scam – You receive a call out of the blue saying there’s a problem with your computer. A ‘helpful’ expert asks for your credit card information. When there’s a problem with your computer, you call the expert – not the other way around.

Fake Overstock sites — Fraudulent websites include the word “overstock” in the domain name, hoping to fool consumers into thinking they are shopping with Overstock.com.

At the Winona Post, we constantly get emails from scammers who want to run the free purebred puppy ads, or the free motorcycle ads. They want to give us a credit card, and when we run the card, it seems legit, and may be. The money to be made for the scammer would be from readers who fall for the scam and send a check. We try to weed out such ads, and want to know if you ever find a scam among our ads.

A friend of mine, a business owner, was nearly taken by some scammers a while ago. She received a phone call at work from a person claiming to be a representative of a utility company. He told her that the bill had not been paid in a very long time, and that the company was going to shut off service unless the bill was paid in full that very day.

My friend was naturally upset, since her entire business relies on having power and heat. Her first knee-jerk reaction was to pay. But wait! She recently had sold her building, and was renting from the new owner, who was paying the utilities. She put off the caller, saying she’d have to check her records. The caller said he would call back in an hour. She called her landlord, who assured her that the utility bills were paid. When the scammer called back, she told him the bill was paid. He said that’s not what their records indicated, and the power would be shut off. She could have called the utility company, too.

At this point, my friend wanted to see how this was going to play out. She asked where she could pay the bill that day. Oh, the scammer said, he would meet her “outside” the office of the utility company. At this point, she figured she had a business to run, had spent enough time on this caller, and told him she knew he was a fake. He quickly hung up. She reported the call to the police.

Successful scammers prey on our fears, and gullibility. It certainly could be true that you or your landlord neglected to pay your utility bill. It could be true that your grandson is in jail in Mexico and needs bail, or your friend was mugged in Paris and you must wire money.

It’s possible, but not probable. We can protect ourselves by being skeptical of offers that seem too good to be true, because they almost always are. We can resist the urge to act right away, and thoroughly check out the scammer’s claim, as my friend did. We can report such scams to the police, so others can be warned.

Let’s protect ourselves in 2014. Money is hard to come by, so don’t give it away to a scamming thief. 


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