Category Archives: Scams

Watch out for fake utility workers

It seems like as good a time as any to once again remind everyone to beware of burglars posing as utility company workers.

The usual setup starts with a knock on the door. The person standing on your doorstep claims to work for the electric or gas company, telephone company, or some other utility. They tell you they are in your neighborhood working on some or other problem, or performing routine maintenance, and ask to be shown to your circuit breaker (or whatever piece of hardware makes sense). Often they’ll even look like a real utility company employee, with a clipboard, nametag and possibly even a uniform.

While you’re showing them to the circuit breaker-or-whatever, an accomplice you didn’t see slips into your house looking for valuables or money.

It doesn’t really matter which type of company they claim to represent, the important thing to remember is that if a utility provider is going to need access to the inside of your house (which they almost never will), they will contact you ahead of time. They will not show up unannounced.

If someone is at your door and you were not contacted in advance, ask to see a badge or official identification, which they should gladly provide. Then politely ask them to wait while you close your door, lock it, lock any other doors, and call the utility company to ask if they’ve sent people to your house. Whatever you do, don’t let them in or call them out on being a crook. This type of scam differs from most in that it involves actual, physical proximity to the perpetrators, which can put you in danger of bodily harm.

Utility worker scams often target senior citizens, so make sure your friends, family and neighbors are aware of this type of crime, what to watch for and how to respond.

Beware of unsolicited offers

The phone rings. A caller identifies himself as representing a well-known and trusted local business. He’s calling to offer you a discount on their services.

“Hey, great, I need those services anyway,” you think, and agree to the offer and arrange for the work to take place.

And another scam is set in motion.

It’s been happening here in Northwest Indiana. A heating/cooling contractor from Illinois (with an F rating at the Better Business Bureau, maybe not-quite-incidentally) has  apparently been calling homeowners and claiming to be a well-known local business (with an A+ rating, also maybe not-quite-incidentally), with an offer for discounted duct cleaning. Workers show up, perform a shoddy duct-cleaning, then ask for more than the agreed-upon price.

So my fraud prevention tip today is this: be wary of unsolicited offers from local businesses. If you get a call, make sure to double-check with the actual business before you agree to anything. Use an official, published number from the real company’s website or trusted online source (or the phone book, if you didn’t just carry it directly from your front porch to the recycling bin) instead of the number that shows up on caller ID or the number given by the caller. If there’s a discrepancy, it could be a different (and unscrupulous) business posing as the real one.

Car Wrap Advertising Scam

There are times when a scam is completely new, but those instances are exceedingly rare. For the most part, “new” scams use tried-and-true methods to lure victims, and it usually doesn’t take long for a “new” scheme to enter familiar territory.

One “new” con is the Car Wrap Advertising Scam. It starts with an emailed offer to earn $400+ per week just to drive your own car with graphics from an energy drink or other company plastered all over it. It’s a novel offer, and it appears many of the emails are well-written and devoid of the broken English, weird tabbing/spacing and initial “Greetings!” salutation.

However, there are already three warning signs, and that’s without even looking at an actual example:

  1. The offer arrives via email
  2. They’re offering a lot of money for zero work
  3. Energy drink companies are, above all else, extremely image-conscious; they’re not going to send random people offers to wrap their cars if there’s any chance their logo might end up on some sketchy old pickup with rust holes a house cat could climb through.

So that last one’s a bit trickier, but still: at this point your inner “Scam Radar” should at least be registering that something isn’t quite right.

What happens if you respond to the message?

They send you a cashier’s check for a few thousand dollars. They tell you it’s your first payment in advance, and that the excess is for the graphic designer who will be applying the graphics to your car.

Can you guess what the victim’s next instructions are? (Hint: at this point, your inner Scam Radar should be on the brink of blowing up, because you’ve heard of this one before.)

If you said, “Wire the excess money to a stranger,” you win a shiny new silver dollar.*

It’s the secret shopper scam all over again: cash this check, wire it to us, find out a week later the check was fraudulent and you’re out several thousand dollars.

So today’s lesson is: beware of old scams wrapped in new, hip, edgy energy drink graphics.

*You don’t actually win a shiny new silver dollar.

IC3 Scam Alerts

The latest batch of scam alerts from the Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and the National White Collar Crime Center (NW3C) came out yesterday, and there are some interesting things going on out there.

I won’t past the entire text here, but the “Triangle Credit Card Fraud” was a new one to me. It works this way:

The first party is the fraudster who acts as a seller on a popular auction or marketplace site. The fraudster “sells” a product to the second party, the buyer that knows nothing about the scam. The buyer pays the seller for the product or service. The seller then needs to deliver the product or service to the buyer and does so by placing an order with the manufacturer of the product or service to the buyer and does so by placing an order with the manufacturer of the product or service, the third party. That order will contain the buyer’s information for shipping and stolen credit card information for billing. When the company receives the order, the billing and shipping information is all legitimate, thus it looks like an order being placed as a gift, so the company delivers the product or service.

That’s a big ball of text that takes a minute to decipher (and it seems to repeat itself at least once, but the underlying message is clear: you have to be really, really cautious when buying things from online auction sites.

The alerts also point out a new take on the old work-at-home scheme. This time, crooks are telling victims they submitted a resume online and using the names of well-known financial institutions and agencies (instead of the usual out-of-the-blue offer for mystery shopper work), then sending victims a fraudulent cashier’s check to purchase software or other supplies. Naturally, the victim then wires back the overage and ends up losing money. This time they’re finding victims because a vast number of people have been submitting resumes online, and I can tell you from experience: unless you’re a record-keeping ninja, it can get hard to keep track of what jobs you’ve applied for.