Real Scams Affect Real People
True accounts of rip-offs drive the message home.
The purpose of sharing these types of stories describing real-life scams is not only to warn you of the potential dangers that are out there, but also to encourage you to share this information with people you care about: parents, friends and adult children.
They are all susceptible.
The two stories that follow are true life accounts of how ordinary people—who are no different from someone you know—were swindled out of their money. In each instance, when the person who was being conned began suspecting that something might be wrong, it was already too late.
Do not be fooled into thinking that:
- Only uneducated or the elderly are tricked by con artists
- You would be able to spot a scam and avoid falling into a trap
- The prospect of making easy money isn't a powerful lure
If scams weren't a legitimate problem, stories like the two that follow wouldn't be noteworthy.
The target: Alan, a flooring product sales representative
The scam. A letter from a lawyer has a plan for easy money.
Alan received a letter in his mailbox that came all the way from Spain. It was written in English and addressed properly to Alan, so he read it. It was from a lawyer and it was typed on a legal firm's impressive looking letterhead in perfect English. The envelope had a stamp from Spain, so it seemed authentic. Alan didn't know anybody from Spain, and that was part of the story. The lawyer had a very specific plea to Alan, a total stranger.
The tale. The lawyer had a client who had just passed away and had left behind a sizeable inheritance, more than $1 million U.S. dollars; but the lawyer wrote he was not able to find a legal heir to inherit the money. The lawyer's client had the same last name as Alan. It was not a common name and that was what got Alan's attention. He continued reading. The lawyer was writing to Alan with a plan. He said he would announce to the courts that he'd found an heir to the client, living in America. If Alan was willing to help out, the two of them could split the inheritance and prevent the money from simply going to the Spanish government. The lawyer provided a phone number Alan could call.
Taking the bait. Alan called the lawyer to learn more and he soon became convinced that this was an easy way to get a sizeable amount of money that would otherwise go to waste. But how would they trick the Spanish government? The lawyer had that figured out. He said that Alan would simply have to pay the official fees and taxes on the inheritance, which was normal to settle the estate, satisfy the officials and make the process totally "legitimate" (even though he wasn't truly an heir).
It starts to go wrong. Alan paid the initial fees to "get the ball rolling," as his lawyer and partner in crime said. The lawyer claimed to also be paying money out of his own pocket to cover the legal expenses involved in getting the inheritance check. There was a second round of fees, which Alan knew was coming. But then there were more fees that the lawyers needed payment for. The lawyer said that it was simply part of the complications of Alan being in another country. He also assured Alan they were within days of getting the check. Alan kept paying.
The harsh reality. When the amount of fees Alan had paid out reached about $30,000 (and there were still more requests), he started to panic. He feared that there would be no end to the requests for cash, and that he was caught in a scam. But it was too late. He'd given away most of his savings, hoping to make a quick fortune with little effort. There was never any inheritance.
TELL YOUR FAMILY AND FRIENDS: Never send money to anybody that you do not know. Also, never get into a discussion about money and finances with any organization without letting someone know what you're about to do.
The target: Jeff, a 30-year old medical device salesman
The scam. A Facebook message about a special lottery windfall.
Jeff was checking his Facebook page when he noticed a message from something called the "Facebook Freedom Lottery." The message, unlike any he'd ever gotten before, said he, along with a couple of dozen more lucky people, had been randomly selected by Facebook as winners in a new lottery. If Jeff acted fast, he could win as much as $100,000.
"No way," Jeff thought to himself. Something's not right. But not long after that, Jeff received another interesting Facebook message. His cousin, a friend on Facebook, sent him a message saying "did you cash in your Lottery winnings?" The cousin said received the same good news and had seen Jeff's name on the list of winners. The cousin's Facebook message said he'd received his winnings with not too much effort, and told Jeff not to miss out.
Trusting his cousin, but not his instincts, Jeff clicked on the link to get in on the Lottery winnings. After reading the "congratulations" message, Jeff read the instructions to get his money. He was to provide a bank account to receive a cash deposit, plus pay a $250 Lottery fee for participating (a small price to pay for big winnings, Jeff thought).
Then another small hang up; the Lottery was based overseas, so Jeff needed to cover the fee of an international money transfer. Then he had to pay a fee to his bank, and a few more fees to cover all the types of fees and taxes involved with Lottery and sweepstakes winnings. The fees wouldn't reduce his winnings, he was told, so he kept paying.
Besides, Jeff thought to himself, his cousin had received his winnings already, and he said there just a few quick steps to take—this must all be part of it. But after several more "additional fees" were paid to make it all legal, yet still without the Lottery payout, Jeff got frustrated. It was time to give his cousin a phone call and ask long he had to wait before he cashed in.
And of course, the cousin had no idea what Jeff was talking about. Worse yet, the cousin told Jeff his Facebook account had been hacked and he'd not been able to use Facebook for a few weeks.
The reality. That's when Jeff knew he had been scammed. There wasn't a lottery promotion and his cousin's message had been part of the perfect deception. His taste for easy winning cost him more than $1,000 in bogus fees that he paid to crooks. On top of that, he'd also given away some valuable personal financial information, like his bank account and Social Security numbers.
Always check whether offers are legitimate, even those passed on from people you know.
Do not send any money or give any payment details to claim a prize or lottery winnings.
If you don't want a friend or loved one fooled by a scam, pass these stories along. Remember, you can never remind people enough to always be on their guard when it comes to talking to strangers, especially when the conversation turns to financial issues.
* The names and a few details of these stories have been changed to protect the identity of the victims.