10 Scams You Need to Know About This Summer

Protect yourself and your family members from becoming victims of these 10 scams

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Consumer Reports

    Scams don't always involve "princes" emailing from a foreign country promising knighthood in return for wiring some cash.

    While those royal emails might seem funny, they also may trick you into believing you know exactly what a scam looks like. But there are scams out there that are much harder to recognize -- and often impossible to recover from.

    Scammers are everywhere, and often prey on victims' emotions just as much as their wallets.

    Here are 10 scams you need to know about and how you can protect your family, friends (and assets) from becoming victims.

    1. Summer Rental Home Scam

    Summer's a great time to leave the city. And while most destinations have legitimate rental sites that offer vacation housing, many people try to find cheaper prices on websites like Craigslist.

    The Better Business Bureau (BBB) is warning renters to beware of bogus home rental ads. According to the BBB, phony ads for rental properties across the country are cropping up to stealing money from unsuspecting renters.

    "Unfortunately... what is convenient for consumers is often just as convenient for scammers, who have also found a way to make a quick buck by taking advantage of unsuspecting, trusting renters all across the country," said Steve Cox, BBB spokesperson.

    What to Look for:

    • If the landlord is located elsewhere and prefers to communicate via e-mail. Scammers might say they've temporarily relocated out of the country for a job or missionary work.

    • If the landlord requires a substantial deposit before showing the home. Never pay any money before inspecting the home.

    • If the landlord asks the renter to wire money through transfer services like Western Union or MoneyGram. Money sent via wire services is almost impossible to get back once a scammer has picked it up.

    • If the deal sounds too good to be true. Scammers will often list a rental for a very low price to lure in victims. Find out how comparable listings are priced, and if the rental looks suspiciously low, walk away.

    2. Fraudulent Debit Card Telephone Call Scam

    Prince William County Police have received several tips about a scam involving fake debit card telephone calls. Victims are receiving automated telephone messages saying that their debit cards have been temporarily disabled and need to be re-activated. The message then instructs listeners to enter their debit card number, PIN and expiration date.

    What to Look for:

    • Any phone message that asks you to enter your debit card number OR PIN number. Banks do not solicit debit card information through automated messages.

    • Any message or phone call requesting personal/financial information be entered electronically.

    If you suspect you've fallen victim to these messages, contact your bank and request your debit card be canceled and replaced as soon as possible.

    3. Faux IRS Employee Scam

    Fairfax County Police are warning residents about a resurgence of a fake IRS employee scam. Police have received dozens of complaints in recent weeks.

    Callers are claiming residents have "overdue tax balances" and that they will be arrested and/or deported immediately if fines are not paid. The scam is sophisticated, and often involves false names, numbers and fake IRS badge numbers. Suspects often continue to call and harass the recipient.

    Once money has been wired/sent, it is impossible to recover.

    What to Look For:

    • Callers typically demand between $4,000 and 6,000 in "immediate payment of unpaid tax bills."

    • Some suspects are described as having heavy accents.

    • The callers use scare tactics. They are demanding, aggressive, threatening and easily angered when callers don't immediate agree to their demands.

    If you have been contacted, call the IRS or report the phone call to police online.

    4. Online Dating Scam

    Millions of Americans use dating sites and social networking to meet people. Scammers know this, and are using the site to target potential victims.

    According to the Federal Trade Commission, scammers will create fake profiles to build online relationships, and eventually convince people to send money in the name of love. Some even make wedding plans before disappearing with the money.

    A love interest who asks for money is almost certainly a scam artist.

    What to Look For:

    • The person wants to leave the dating site immediately and use personal email or instant messaging.

    • The person claims love very quickly.

    • The person claims to be from the U.S., but overseas working or traveling.

    • The person plans a detailed visit, but is prevented by some traumatic event or business deal gone sour and needs money to come see you.

    • The person requests money to cover travel, medical expenses, hotel bills, hospital bills for a loved one, visas or losses for a financial setback.

    Great relationships can be forged online, but be wary of any requests for money, even if it appears to be an emergency. 

    5. Repair Worker Scam

    Two senior citizens have become victims of theft in recent days after men posed as power company employees to gain access to their homes. In Arlington, a 91-year-old woman's jewelry was stolen after she let in two men who claimed they needed to perform a repair.

    "They said, 'There's been a bad accident... the car hit all the wires [which] are all messed up and we need to fix all of them," said the victim, who uses a cane to get around.

    One of the men confined her to the living room while the other rummaged through her home and stole all of her jewelry, including her wedding ring. The two men are still at large.

    In the second incident, a Stafford County woman told police Monday that two men told her they needed to check her lights and said they had to lay power lines. She later realized money had been stolen from her home.

    What to Look For:

    • The workers claim there has been an accident and repairs are needed immediately.

    • The workers do not offer an immediate cost estimate, or avoid telling you how much repairs are going to cost.

    • The workers do not have official documentation from the company for which they claim to work.

    • Be wary if you have not been contacted about necessary repairs prior to workers' arrival.

    Ask workers which company they work for, and call the company to verify their presence. If they are not affiliated with the company they claim to be, call 911.

    If you have any information about this crime, call police at 1-866-411-TIPS.

    6. TV Product Scam (targets Spanish-speaking communities)

    A recent lawsuit filed by the FTC claims that Hispanic Global Way marketed a variety of products through Spanish-language TV commercials, including a phony weight loss belt, English-language courses, clothing and cellphones.

    The company then shipped orders that were incomplete or defective and products that were different than advertised. When consumers called to complain and request returns, many were told that they could not return merchandise and denied refunds. Others were put on hold, hung up on or insulted for calling.

    What to Look for:

    • Companies you have never heard of. If you don't know anything about a company, research it before ordering its products. Even if a company advertises on national TV, it's worth it to check it out. Type the company's name and "scam," "complaint" or "review" into your search engine and see what comes up.

    • An unclear refund policy. Make sure you understand the company's return and refund policies before making your purchase. Ask the company for their terms in writing, including any additional fees or charges you might incur. If the terms aren't clear, it might be a scam.

    If you feel you are being threatened or suspect a scam, file a complaint with the FTC.

    7. Family Emergency Scam

    Scammers often play on emotions to trick victims. If you get a call out of the blue from someone who claims to be a member of your family and needs cash to get out of a jam, pay a hospital bill or escape a foreign country, the FTC warns it is probably a scam.

    What to Look for:

    • The caller begs you to wire money.

    • The caller asks you to keep the request confidential. He or she doesn't want your family to alert you to the scam. Check with family members to see if they know about the situation; if they don't, it is probably a scam.

    • The caller cannot answer questions he or she should know. If the caller cannot verify their identity by answering personal questions, it's probably a scam.

    • If you are a grandparent. Scammers often target older family members.

    8. Craigslist Scams

    Craigslist is a popular place to buy and sell locally, but it can be an easy place to get scammed if you aren't careful.

    Craigslist advises that the easiest way to avoid a scam is to deal locally with people you can meet in person.

    What to Look For:

    • Someone claiming Craigslist will guarantee a transaction, certify a buyer/seller or provide protection for your payment. Craigslist does not provide these services.

    • Someone requires a wire service payment.

    • Foreign company offers you a job receiving payment from customers, then wiring funds.

    • A distant person offers to send you a money order and then have you wire money. According to Craigslist, this is ALWAYS a scam, and the cashier's check is always fake.

    9.Sweepstakes Scam

    Did you know you never have to purchase an item or pay a fee to enter and win a sweepstakes, and, under U.S. law, buying something will not increase your chances of winning?

    Many people do not, and fall victim to sweepstakes scams every year. Scammers will send letters, especially to the elderly, asking for small sums of money in exchange for a big payday. Once victims have responded to a certain about of requests, their name is added to a "sucker list" of victims who will respond.

    From there, phone calls begin. Victims are told they have won big prizes like cars and continue to send money.

    Postal officials say these crimes are hard to prosecute because most of the suspects operate in foreign countries like Canada and Jamaica. But the postal service has made some arrests and just opened an office in Jamaica.

    They also have a whole website devoted to educating people about these scams.

    What to Look for:

    • Any request to send a small sum to receive a large prize.

    • Letters containing any information about a sweepstakes that requires an entry-fee.

    • Phone calls about winning large, expensive prizes that ask for a service fee or small sum to deliver the prize.

    10. Charity Scams

    Summer weather disasters like tornadoes and severe storms can leave communities devastated and in need of generous financial assistance. With the storms come bogus charities, claiming to send your money to the needy but pocketing the cash instead.

    The FTC urges donors to be on guard against scam artists who try to take advantage of tragedies.

    What to Look For:

    • A charity you have never heard of. Make sure to find a charity with a long track record of dealing with natural disasters. Be alert for charities that seem to have sprung up overnight in connection with a specific event. Check out the BBB's Wise Giving Alliance, Charity Navigator, Charity Watch or Guidestar.

    • Unclear or indirect answers from callers. Ask callers if they are a paid fundraiser, who they work for and a breakdown of what percentage of your donation goes directly to the charity. If you don't get a clear answer consider donating to a different organization.