June 30, 2008

What Not To Do #1 – Falling for a Scam

Posted in debt, Equilibrium, Finances, life, scam tagged , , , , at 3:25 pm by otherdeb

A friend of mine suggested that, given some of the stuff I have had to deal with over the past few years, a series on what not to do might be in order here (thank you, autographedcat)!

Given the recent problem my roommate has developed I think today’s post in the series will be about avoiding being scammed. (Not that I think for one moment that any of you are that gullible, but the reason scammers keep trying is there are tons of folks who are.)

First off, avoiding scams is not that hard. The general rule is, I think, that if it sounds too good to be true, it is. If someone you have never met is offering you huge amounts of money to do a job you never applied for in the first place, it’s a scam.

If someone sends you an email purporting to be from a small country and needing to transfer funds out, or claims to be in jail and needs to get their money out of the country to avoid it being seized, it’s a scam.

If you get a letter in the mail that promises you thousands for nothing but an illegal transaction on your part, yeah, that’s a scam, too.

However, in weak moments the best of us can be tempted. So here are a few clues for when you are considering that offer that looks like it could solve all your problems:

1. Do the addresses match? In my roommate’s case, the check was from a construction company in Georgia, the letterhead from a place in New Jersey, and the stamp from Canada. This should raise all sorts of hackles.

2. What do they want you to do for the money? In this case, the letter wanted her to deposit this check, then transfer, via MoneyGram, the bulk of it to “Pamela Your Last Name Here” of Toronto, Canada. If it was legit, why wouldn’t there be a name that matched either the check or the letterhead? (Not that this would necessarily make it legit, but it would look less like a scam.)

3. Again, is the offer too good to be true, or does it look like it would solve all your problems? I’ve learned over the years (and you probably have, too) that the only way out of the mess you dug yourself into is slogging your way out and learning to become accountable, both to yourself and to others.

In short, if it sounds too good to be true, toss it in the wastebasket, or delete it from your inbox.

And, in the event you do get caught, a lawyer I know suggests the following:

1. Don’t let how dumb you feel for having been scammed paralyze you, and don’t beat yourself up over it. Neither of the above will rectify the situation, and inaction may leave you open to further problems.

2. Notify your bank. Immediately. Yes, they will put a hold on your funds, but it’s better than having the scammers drain your account in addition to what they have already conned you out of.

3. Call the police. It’s likely you will have to talk to the Detective Bureau, during regular business hours, which is what my roommate is going to have to do.

4. If any part of the material is from out of your state, you are going to want to notify the FBI, and the Postal Inspectors. This kind of fraud falls into their bailiwick.

5. You will also want to notify the Big 3 credit reporting agencies, TransUnion, Experian, and Equifax. They need to block you accounts from giving out information that can be used to steal your identity.

6. And, if you don’t already, you are going to want to monitor your credit reports. You can do this once a year by going to annualcreditreport.com. (You all should be doing this anyway, just on general principles.)

Yes, it’s all a big pain in the butt, but it’s a lot less painful to be considered a victim of a scammer than to be considered an accessory to their actions. Believe me, that’s a level of problems that is almost impossible to resolve without throwing tons of money and time at.

And, once again, the easiest way to avoid being scammed is to commit to doing the work involved to straighten your life and finances out, and stop looking for shortcuts that will magically solve your problems. They don’t exist. Period.

Have you been caught by a scammer? What did you have to do to rectify the situation? How long did it take to resolve? What damage did it end up doing to you, beyond the obvious loss of money, credibility, and self-esteem?



  1. Rafe said,

    Important: If someone tries this on you, do NOT assume that it’s OK if the check clears. (In fact the scammers rely on you thinking this.) The bank can and will still grab the funds back later if it turns out that the check is fraudulent.

  2. otherdeb said,

    @ Rafe: Thank you. You are so right; that’s exactly what the scammers are counting on. Fortunately, in this case, the bank found the fraud before my roommate had taken even more money out. I shudder to think what would have happened if she had taken all the money out first. And, as much as I hate that she is an exception to the check-clearing law by virtue of her poor banking habits, I am so glad that there was a long enough hold on the majority of the money that the bank was able to pick up on it.

  3. Sock Knitter said,

    Wow! Just wow. So sorry about this — I sure hope they are able to catch these sub-humans!

    So sorry you were effected by her being drawn in to this ridiculous scheme. At least it didn’t get any worse — as I am sure she realizes it sure could have!!

  4. otherdeb said,

    @ Sock Knitter: Thank you. The problem is that, while she learns from each individual mistake, she always finds a new one to make that puts her into a bigger hole. I wish I knew how to get her to stop looking for shortcuts out of her predicament, but the sad truth is that until she is willing to be accountable and responsible for her finances the chain of problems will continue.

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