You’ve probably heard of the phone support scam, where criminals call you to warn about a “virus” on your PC. Only by paying an annual protection fee can you avoid a cataclysmic meltdown.
But did you know that the scammers are so confident that they come back for seconds?
Hard to believe, but it’s true.
In a recent issue of Virus Bulletin, one victim reported that phone support scammers were calling back consumers they previously tricked into paying for their services, and fooling the same innocent users into paying for a “renewal” of the service.
Sounds like a sequel to my book, but for some people, it’s a real nightmare. Among fraud-prevention experts, it’s called a “reloading” scam, because the con artists return to the well repeatedly until it’s dry.
Here’s how to prevent it:
You can avoid repeatedly being taken by learning to say “no.” But that’s not always easy, because you might be invested in the scheme.
I dealt with a lottery fraud victim who was repeatedly contacted over the period of a year, offering her million-dollar winnings in exchange for just one more payment wired overseas.
She kept putting money in because she didn’t want to forfeit her windfall.
Get off the “sucker” list.
If you’ve been scammed, and the bad guys got away with it, then chances are pretty good you’re on a “sucker” list.
These rosters of gullible consumers contain important details, such as your name, number and the type of con you fell for.
Getting off the list is easy. Call the authorities and report the scam. That’s grounds for immediate deletion.
I know, that sounds like the title of a business-school case study. But scam artists are some of the most inventive people on the planet.
When they circle back for more, they reinvent their fraudulent offer, making it sound bigger and better.
So even if you’ve said “no” before, the same folks may come by and offer you something different sounding, but which is ultimately the same scam. Expect it.
Remember, timing is nothing.
The most sophisticated scammers will try to use their longevity as proof that their offer is credible. But that means nothing.
Just because they haven’t been shut down by law enforcement doesn’t mean they’re not running a shady business.
At best, it just means they’re smarter, or can afford the best lawyers to cover their tracks. I’ve been following some scammy travel clubs for years, and they exact membership “fees” from a long list of suckers every year.
When in doubt, ask.
Even the most sophisticated reloading scams are reported quickly online. Run a quick search, and if you’ve been approached, be sure to report the come-ons to the Federal Trade Commission or to the National Consumers League’s Fraud Center.
Recycled scams are a scourge on consumers, but with a little research and a practiced answer, you can avoid getting suckered. That way, the only rerun you’ll have to worry about this summer will be the ones on TV.
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.