Stranded Traveler Scams
You receive an e-mail from a friend or relative who claims to be stranded in another state or country, perhaps because his wallet was stolen or because he’s been arrested. You’re asked to wire money. The problem: Your friend or relative’s e-mail account has been hacked and the e-mail was sent by the hacker. Don’t wire money. Check the story out with other friends or family members, or reply to the e-mail asking for information that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.
Someone sends you a cashier’s check or personal check to pay for something that you’ve listed for sale. The buyer (or a third person) comes up with a reason to write the check for more than the purchase price. You’re asked to wire back the difference. When you deposit the check at your bank, everything seems fine. The problem: It may take a few days to route the check to the issuing bank, but when it arrives, they will promptly notify you that the check is a counterfeit. If you’ve already wired money to the buyer, in all likelihood, your bank will hold you accountable for that money. Don’t wire money.
You come across a great deal on a home or vacation rental. You’re asked to wire money for an application fee, security deposit or first month’s rent. The problem: The scam artist hijacked the rental listing and changed the contact information and listed the altered ad on another website. Or, the listing is just made up for a place that isn’t for rent or doesn’t exist. Or, the scam could be reversed and pulled on a landlord. The potential renter may send you a check to cover the security deposit and first month’s rent, and before you discover that the check is a counterfeit, the renter cancels the lease and asks you to wire the money back. In either scenario, don’t wire money.
You meet someone online, usually on a dating or social networking website. You exchange e-mail messages, and perhaps even talk on the phone or trade pictures. Within a matter of days, the scammer will profess his love for you. He’ll send you poems and love letters, and even bring up the subject of marriage. The point: To draw you in and take advantage of your dream of finding true love. Once you’re on the hook, however, the scammer will invent a reason to request money. The scammer will ask you to wire money because, for example, he needs money for a passport or airline tickets, or he needs to pay a bribe in order to leave the country, or he needs money for a family member’s urgent medical treatment, or he needs money to pay his cell phone bill in order to keep talking with you, or he needs money to temporarily “hold him over” until he gets paid or receives an inheritance. Regardless of the reason, the scammer will create a sense of urgency and at the same time profess his love for you. He may even promise to pay the money back. If you wire money, it will be lost forever and the person you thought you knew so well will be lost with it. Don’t wire money.
Online Purchase Scams
You buy something online, for example via an online auction or a classified ad website. The seller insists that the only form of payment that’s acceptable is a wire transfer. Don’t wire money. You should attempt to pay for the item using a credit card, but only through a trusted third-party escrow service or a trusted online payment system. If you use your credit card through a third-party escrow service or an online payment system, your transaction will be protected by the Fair Credit Billing Act. Don’t give your credit card account information directly to a seller who is advertising on an online auction or a classified ad website. Remember: Insisting on a wire transfer is a red flag for fraud.
Advanced Fee Scams
You’re told that you’ve just won the lottery or sweepstakes. All you have to do to claim your prize is to wire money for “taxes” and “fees”. Or, you’re told that, regardless of your credit history, you’re guaranteed to receive a loan or credit card. After you submit your application, you’re told that all you have to do is wire money for “a processing fee”. Don’t wire money. If you’re asked to wire money to receive something in return, you’re dealing with a scam artist.