Car Wrap Advertising Scam

March 1, 2013

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.


A fictional story about a guy who did everything wrong one day

October 7, 2010

Hi there.

My name is Johnny, and I had a busy day today.

I woke up around eight because I had a new job as a secret shopper. I got an email a couple weeks ago, and they hired me on the spot when I responded. Yesterday, an envelope arrived with a check and my first assignment.

I headed to my bank around nine. At first, the teller didn’t want to cash the check because I only had six bucks in my account, but I whined and got in her face and demanded to talk to the manager until she relented. “That’s a cashier’s check,” I told her in no uncertain terms. “Those are the same as cash.”

I left the bank with $2,700 in my pocket and headed to the nearest Western Union location. The guy there kept asking me questions about the money I was wiring, so I finally told him it was for a relative in Canada, just like the secret shopping company told me to do. It was a little annoying the way he wouldn’t leave me alone. I’m going to put that in my report for sure.

By the time I was done, it was only ten o’clock. I had made $150 for less than an hour of work! I could get used to this lifestyle. I decided to head home.

The phone was ringing when I came in the door. I ran to answer, and this guy from the county courthouse was telling me I was going to be arrested for not appearing for jury duty.

“But I never got a letter that said anything about jury duty,” I said.

“That doesn’t matter,” he replied. “The fact is that you didn’t show, and an officer will be stopping by later today to make the arrest.”

“But…isn’t there some way I could just do jury duty another time? I didn’t miss on purpose.”

“Let me see what I can do, sir,” the man said. After a minute on hold, he told me I could just pay a fine and the whole thing would be taken care of. I gave him my name, date of birth, Social Security number and some credit card information to pay the fine. I was relieved when I hung up the phone. Crisis averted.

The mail had arrived, but it was nothing but a pile of credit card offers. I threw these in the trash unopened. Nobody’s going to rip me off.

I sat down on the sofa to unwind with some TV. It was mostly talk shows at that time of morning, but there was a news broadcast between commercials that caught my eye. It gave some phone number you could call to get your debts eliminated. I have a lot of debt, so I wrote down the number. It seemed like a strange place for a news alert, during the commercials, but whatever. There was a ticker on the screen and some footage of the President, so it must be some kind government program, right?

I went to the computer to write up my report for the secret shopping job. I hate my computer. It came with this virus protection software, but the only thing it’s done for the past two years is tell me my subscription is expired. It’s annoying. Plus, when I opened my web browser (Internet Explorer 6) and tried to visit a website, this window popped up offering a free virus scan. I clicked “OK” and it found like ten infections. The software that came with my computer doesn’t even work!

After the scan, there was a window that wouldn’t go away, so I just closed the browser and checked my email. There, a miracle happened. It turns out I was entered in the lottery up in Canada, and I won! $2,500,000, all for me. I called the claims agent right away. It turns out there are some taxes and fees I have to pay first, but that’s okay—they’re going to mail me a check. I think I may retire from secret shopping. After all, with two-and-a-half million, I’m going to be pretty much set for life.

I’m not going to tell anyone about it, though. I don’t want everybody asking me for money.

My name is Johnny, and I made at least ten mistakes today, if not more. Can you spot them all?


There are ways to earn money online; start by ignoring almost everything on the Internet

October 1, 2010

It’s easy to get bogged down in all the negatives when you’re writing article after article about scam and fraud prevention. “Here’s how not to get taken,” you tell people, and leave it at that.

However, the truth is that not everyone on the Internet is meant to steal from you.

Okay, most, but not everyone. The key is to be able to tell the difference.

I read a nice article from CBS News today (Work at Home and Make Money – REALLY!) that not only gives great tips on avoiding work-at-home scams, but actually offers suggestions of legitimate companies that can help you earn money from home. I’ve never really seen that before.

One of the things you’ll immediately notice is that none of these companies scream about anyone making $5,000 per week. In some cases, you have to have some pretty good knowledge of a topic, or even certification. In others, you’re basically selling your stuff on eBay (if it’s just old stuff) or Etsy (if it’s something vintage or handmade).

Nobody is getting rich off these systems. If it’s fabulous wealth you’re after, you’re going to have to be a lot more inventive. But if your goal is simply to supplement your income, there might be something useful in the article.


Fraud Prevention Templates: scams involving money wiring.

March 25, 2010

I’ve written upwards of 140 posts about scams, fraud and identity theft since last July, and it seems like there are a lot of schemes that are based on the same idea, only with different details.

For example, consider these two scenarios:

  1. Rental Scam: a landlord is sent a cashier’s check for far more than the first/last month’s rent and security deposit. The crook tells the landlord to just wire the overage back to him. Later, the check is returned as fraudulent.
  2. Mystery Shopper Scam: a job seeker is sent a cashier’s check and instructed to cash it and wire the funds back, allegedly to check out the customer service at Western Union. Later, the check is returned as fraudulent.

They’re two different scams, but they hinge on that counterfeit check, and they both involve wiring money. So let’s extract a general rule of thumb here, a Fraud Prevention Template:

Anyone who sends you a check and instructs you to cash it and wire money back to them is attempting to commit fraud.

That’s it. If you’re in a situation that involves a check and wiring money back to the maker of that check, you’re about to become a victim of fraud if you continue. The actual context doesn’t really matter.

Someone contacts you via Craigslist to purchase an item you’ve listed. They send you a check for $2,000 more than you wanted for the object. They tell you to just cash it and wire the funds back. It fits the template.

You get a letter that says you won the Canadian Lottery, but you have to pay taxes and fees first. The letter includes a check with instructions to cash it and wire the funds back to them. It fits the template.

The best part of keeping this one simple rule in mind is that you don’t even have to carry any other information around in your head. You don’t have to know that a legitimate lottery never asks winners to pay in order to claim a prize, or that you can’t win a lottery you never entered, or that it’s illegal to play foreign lotteries—you’ve got a check in your hand, and some clown is telling you to cash it and wire the money back. You know right away you’re dealing with a con artist. Fraud averted.

I’m going to come up with a few more of these templates over the next few weeks. It’s a lot easier than trying to memorize the details of every little variation.

Don’t worry, though; I’ll still be on the lookout for all those variations to write about, too.


Mystery Shopper scams escalating.

January 28, 2010

According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), mystery shopper scams are seeing an increase in frequency.

Continued high unemployment rates are likely the root of this upswing—the longer people are out of work, the more likely they are to want to believe in a job opportunity, no matter how strongly all signs are pointing to “scam.”

Worse, it appears the scammers have become a little more patient: they’re not going in for the kill until they’ve earned your trust by sending you on what appears to be a legitimate secret shopper mission.

The victim in this case doesn’t get a cashier’s check right off the bat. First they are sent to a retail location (unspecified in the IC3 press release, but I’d bet you a dollar it’s usually Wal-Mart) with instructions to spend a certain amount of money and take notes on various aspects of their shopping experience. The victim does as told, and reports back to the “employer.”

For the second assignment, the victim is mailed a cashier’s check, which is to be (you guessed it) cashed and wired back to the scammers from the same retail location, with some kept by the victim as payment. The usual result follows: the victim cashes the check, wires most of it back, and finds out a few days later that it was counterfeit and they now owe their financial institution around $2,600.

No, the victim’s bank or credit union isn’t going to cover the fake check. Why should they? It’s not their fault the victim presented a phony check.

No, the bank or credit union from whom the fake check is drawn isn’t going to cover it, either. Why should they? They didn’t create the check. It was never drawn off a legitimate account in the first place. If someone made a fake box of checks with your name and account number on them, would you feel like you had to cover those checks? Of course not. Financial institutions feel the same way.

No, the person who ends up having to cover the check is the victim. If they’re lucky, they bank at a financial institution that puts a hold on cashier’s checks. If they’re even luckier, the teller asked them about the check and recognized it as a scam, and the check was never even deposited to begin with.

But if they’re unlucky, or if they manipulated the teller into releasing the funds right away, they’ll always end up wishing there had been a hold placed or an alert teller to dissuade them.

The problem with not having a source of income is that you generally can’t afford to lose $2,600. Most people can’t afford it when they are employed. Falling for one of these schemes will only make things worse. If you get letters or email offering jobs out of the blue, don’t trust those messages. Being almost broke is still better than being a couple thousand in the hole.


Prevent fraud by slowing down: it’s not just about the Internet.

January 13, 2010

Yesterday I wrote about the problem with “shortened” web addresses on Twitter and other social media outlets—namely, that the actual web addresses are obscured, which could lead to malware infections on your computer.

I suggested using a shortened URL decoder, sort of a “reverse lookup,” such as LongURL, to check links before you click. It takes a few extra seconds now, but it can save you massive headaches later.

I also spoke about the need to back off a little when it comes to instant online gratification. Phishing attacks, for example, thrive on getting victims to respond without thinking.

Today, though, I came across a small article about yet another set of mystery shopper scam victims. The details aren’t that important for our purposes today. Suffice it to say they lost around $4,000 they couldn’t afford (assuming they’re like most of us).

I started thinking about how the concept of slowing down doesn’t just apply to shortened web addresses. Think about the mystery shopper scam setup, and how each approach plays out.

Scenario #1: You receive an email offering lucrative employment as a mystery shopper. Not wanting to miss out on a big payout, you immediately respond. You are mailed a cashier’s check and instructed to cash it, keep some, use some for purchases at Walmart, and wire the rest back as quickly as possible, or you’ll miss out on future opportunities to work for them again. You rush out the door to your financial institution, hit the Wal-Mart and wire a few thousand dollars back via Western Union. About a week later, you find out the check was fraudulent and that you owe your financial institution $2,600. Life goes on, but with a painful “learned that one the hard way” lesson under your belt.

Scenario #2: You receive that same email, but decide to take a moment and check it out first. You Google a snippet of the message or the name of the company, and find thousands of people telling you it’s a scam. You delete the message and life goes on.

Bonus Scenario: You’re an avid Fraud Prevention Unit reader, and already know without checking that it’s a scam. You delete the message and life goes on.

There are a lot of scams that depend on victims who either act without thinking or who haven’t taken any time to be educated first. In fact, a vast majority of these crimes seem to hinge on a quick response from their victims.

I’m a big advocate of stepping back and taking a moment to think. There was an auto advertisement on television several years ago that just offended my every sensibility. I think it was for some kind of Toyota SUV, but I can’t quite remember. What I do remember is that it featured sped-up footage of a generic “supermom” (that’s not a compliment—I feel sorry for these people and their kids) dropping her children off at a million different places. The tagline had something to do with “your supercharged family.”

I could not believe they were depicting this lifestyle as something you should strive for. Now, if you honestly enjoy constant stress, then I guess I can’t vouch for you, but when I hear 99% of people talk about how frantic their lives are, they’re complaining, not bragging.

The thing is, many people think they don’t have a choice. I say you do. You can find space to slow down and take some time to think, but not if you’re convinced that you’re powerless to do so. Tell the kids to pick one sport they love, instead of signing them up for ten just to show off how busy you are.

That frantic, stressed-out, hollow-eyed, constantly-on-the-go way of living doesn’t lend itself to thinking before you act. It’s not only bad for your health, it will make you more susceptible to phishing and lottery scams and every other type of fraud under the sun.

So the same idea that applies online goes for your offline life, too: just take a second and relax, think about your decisions. It’s when you’re in a hurry that preventable mistakes happen. I’ll loan you some live Dead tapes if you need some mellow tunes, okay?


How to avoid Craigslist scams.

December 4, 2009

You’ve probably heard of Craigslist. Basically, it’s an online classified ad site where you can sell or buy items, find jobs, dates or local events.

It’s an interesting site, for a variety of reasons:

  1. The design of the site is super-minimalist. It’s changed very little since 1996, so it’s an example of pure function over flash (and Flash, for that matter).
  2. The company genuinely seems more interested in creating value than raking in supermassive profits, which it could do if it would just fill the site up with paid advertising and skeevy JavaScript (their profits are pretty massive anyway, though).
  3. It’s only source of revenue is paid job listings in certain cities

There are more, but “Why Craigslist Is Neat” is not the title of today’s post.

When you’re selling something on Craigslist, it’s very likely you’re going to get some messages from people attempting to scam you. So how do you avoid them?

First and foremost, deal only with local people you can meet in person, and accept only cash as payment. With this one step, you will reduce your chances of running into a scam to nearly nothing.

When you do meet your buyer in person, only do so in a public place (never at your home), make sure you tell your friends or family where you are going, bring a cell phone, consider bringing a friend, and listen to any nagging doubts you might have when you’re meeting the buyer. These tips are directly from Craigslist’s page on the topic of personal safety.

Never give any personal information to anyone during the course of a Craigslist transaction. You’re buying or selling an object with cash. Nobody needs anybody’s account numbers (or full name, in my opinion).

Generally, nobody from Craigslist is going to contact you about your listing, as the company is not involved in the transaction at all. There are no “guarantees,” and anyone who talks of these things is up to no good.

You might get people who agree to buy an item, then send you a cashier’s check for ten times the amount, with instructions to cash it and wire the excess back to them.

Sound familiar? It should—it’s a variation on the old secret shopper scam, this time in the form of an overpayment scam.

However, if you’re following the number one rule (cash only, local in-person sales only), you eliminate the possibility of this scam entirely.

Craigslist has a page dedicated to avoiding scams, which contains some examples of different scams, as well as the following:

Most scams involve one or more of the following:

  • inquiry from someone far away, often in another country
  • Western Union, Money Gram, cashier’s check, money order, shipping, escrow service, or a “guarantee”
  • inability or refusal to meet face-to-face before consummating transaction

Finally, make sure you’re actually on Craigslist. The real web address is http://www.craigslist.org. Watch out for easy misspellings like “craiglist” or different domains (.com or .net).

It’s a great site if you use it wisely (and an interesting business model), but be aware of the dangers and stick to in-person sales using cash.


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