When it comes to creativity, the scammers have an edge.
No single group of professionals is more inventive than these fraudsters — and I don’t mean that in a good way. Just when you think you’ve got them all figured it out, they change their pitch or presentation. They improve it and live to scam another day.
Here are the five hottest new scams out there:
Think phishing (fraudulently obtaining your password and other personal info online) plus SMS, or instant messaging — and voila, you have smishing. Popular text messages have come from banks, department stores and lotteries; never mind the fact that none of these institutions would send you a text message. Part of the appeal for scammers is that they can be brief, and the less said, the better. Replies also tend to be short, since text messages can be costly. It’s the perfect scam!
How to spot it: Legit companies don’t text you. Remember that. Also, look for typos and bad grammar. Yes, even on a brief text message.
The DEA Scam
If you buy prescription drugs online — and really, you shouldn’t — then you might be setting yourself up for this one. Scam artists posing as U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency agents could be targeting you. Here’s how it works: You’ll get a call from someone claiming to be with DEA, saying your drugs have been seized. Pay an $1,800 fine through Western Union, or agents will show up at your front door.
How to spot it: Wiring money is a dead giveaway. That’s not how the government works.
The proliferation of online payments are paving the way for this Russian scam to get imported to America. It involves a convicted con artist (which should really be your first tip-off) fake money (your second) and a pyramid scheme (as if you needed a third). The most remarkable thing is that authorities seem powerless to stop the scam, since technically, no laws are being violated. Maybe smishing isn’t the perfect scam, after all. Maybe this is.
How to spot it: Bogus currency? How do you not spot it?
The Infected Computer Scam
This is a remarkable con, because it’s almost believable. Here’s a woman in Western Australia who says she received a call from someone claiming to be from Microsoft support. It said her PC had been infected. She allowed the scammer to remotely access her computer, and it almost worked (if she’s had money in her account, it would have). This virus scam is pretty sophisticated and there’s no telling how many victims it’ll claim before the perpetrators are caught.
How to spot it: Your computer software company doesn’t call you when you have a problem — you call it.
The Toilet Paper Scam
This one falls under the “too good to be true” category. If someone knocks on your front door and claims to have a product that eliminates the need to pump your septic tank, close the door and call the police. In South Florida, three men recently pleaded guilty to running this swindle, called the toilet paper scam because it involved bogus claims about toilet paper. Specifically, as part of the rip-off, they falsely claimed the government had changed the composition of toilet paper. Yeah, right.
How to spot it: You mean, other than that it was too good to be true? When it comes to your septic tank, never take unsolicited advice from a stranger.
I see a few troubling patterns in these new scams: they leverage the latest technology, like texting and remotely accessing another PC that requires a certain level of sophistication, and they find new ways of circumventing the law. If nothing else, these scam artists are really clever.
Do you want my advice? (Yes, yes you do.)
Now, more than ever, you have to be vigilant about the purchases you make. Product claims that sound too good to be true probably are. Government agents don’t ask you to wire money, and fake money is just that — it’s fake.
The scammers are smart. You’ve gotta be smarter.
Christopher Elliott is a consumer advocate who blogs about getting better customer service at On Your Side. Connect with him on Twitter and Facebook or send him your questions by email.