Let’s talk swindles, shall we?
Let me start by making a little confession: the headline on this article is something of a swindle in and of itself, because it suggests that there is such a thing as a summer scam.
That’s not really true. The schemes I’m going to talk about in the next few paragraphs can happen year-round, and in the end, that’s what persuaded me to tell you about them.
Some of the following scams are new and some should have been put out of their misery generations ago, but all are dangerous.
One magazine recently ran a story warning consumers about the latest strain of phishing scams involving airline tickets. The article suggests the scam is being targeted to summer air travelers. The scammers send you a message about a reservation that doesn’t exist, hoping to squeeze a password or credit card number out of you, which is what happens when you’re phished.
While it’s true that a lot of people travel by air during the summer months, phishing never takes a break, so don’t think the scam will end when Labor Day rolls around, because it won’t.
Last week’s East Coast storms raised concerns about the possibility of widespread gouging, another scammy activity closely linked to summer. I’ve been an almost-victim of a gouge after Hurricane Charley hit Florida a few years ago. A Texas-based landscaping crew preying on my neighborhood wanted $1,000 to clear each fallen tree, and they were getting it.
One writer recently covered a gouging story in New Jersey, which led the state to issue a warning against would-be fraudsters. But, like phishers, gougers work year-round. Remember: hurricane season doesn’t get into full swing until September, so the scamming doesn’t end with the summer.
The words “scam” and “timeshare” go together so well that, in an effort to distance itself from it, the timeshare industry has begun referring to its product as “fractional ownership” units.
Earlier this season, one TV reporter pegged timeshares as a summer scam, but that’s not entirely correct. I get most of my timeshare complaints around spring break, when tourists sign the dotted line on their dense contracts without reading the fine print about their fabulous new timeshare. And where I live, in Orlando, the timeshare scam — uh, I mean fractional ownership scam — is a year-round phenomenon.
Still, the news segment had some good, if not common sense, advice about avoiding this swindle.
I had to do a double take when I recently read about the preponderance of summer jobs scams. Really? I had a friend who was taken by one of these schemes once — and I think that was in 1987.
In fact, job scams are so popular, the Federal Trade Commission even has its own microsite devoted to it. In my opinion, anyone suggesting job scams are limited to the summer is only helping the bad guys, not the consumer.
And here’s where yours truly has done a bad, bad thing. By perpetuating the myth that somehow travelers are being targeted during the summer (which is true), it gives folks traveling during the other nine months of the year permission to let their guard down.
So, what’s the takeaway? That’s easy. This laundry lists of swindles makes great eye-candy during the slow summer months, but when it comes to protecting yourself, the best rule is this: never let your guard down. If you’re lulled into believing the scammers go home after Labor Day, then I have a Nigerian inheritance for you. Just wire me $2,000 and I’ll share the details.
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.