Call it what you like – scam, con, grift, hustle, swindle, flimflam.
Ripping people off is as old as civilization but the craft has managed to change with the times. The Federal Competition Bureau is taking note and has compiled its “Little Black Book of Scams” to prevent us suckers, rubes, patsies or chumps from falling victim. Here are a few to look out for:
Lotteries, sweepstakes and contests
Congratulations, you’re a winner. Well, not exactly if you need to put money up or provide personal financial information to collect your prize.
It helps to spot a scam like this if you haven’t even entered the contest. In some cases it involves calling a premium rate number to collect your prize, and they will keep you on the phone for as long as possible.
Remember Bernie Madoff ? He made-off with his client’s money by promising unsustainable investment returns. Actually, the only way he could sustain returns was by getting new clients.
Pyramid, or Ponzi schemes can be cleverly disguised but in the end they eventually collapse when new members dry up. They are illegal in Canada.
Money transfer requests
We’ve all (hopefully) heard of the Nigerian 419 scam. It varies but the potential victim is contacted via e-mail by a person claiming to represent a high-ranking Nigerian government official who has been toppled in a coup and needs help transferring millions of dollars out of Nigeria.
Nigeria can be replaced by just about any troubled country, but in the end the victim is asked to provide personal financial details and transfer a few hundred dollars to the scammer to facilitate the transfer – which never comes.
Health and medical scams
It can get personal when scammers appeal to our sense of vanity or well being. The most popular health scam revolves around quick and easy weight loss. They can come in the form of devices, plans, pill or creams and often involve large upfront payments or long-term contracts. Guarantees are rarely honoured.
Online pharmacy scams often provide cheap drugs or miracle cures but there’s no assurance they meet regulatory guidelines. Real online pharmacies will provide contact details.
They don’t get much lower than this one. In a typical case grandparents will get a call from scammers claiming to be their grandchildren. They say they have had an emergency - perhaps a car accident – and ask for money to be transferred.
In some cases the scam will include someone pretending to be a police officer or other government official.
Dating and romance scams
Love hurts – especially when you’re left with an empty wallet. Con artists will actually create dating websites for people looking to meet their matches and charge for each email sent and received. In many cases the potential suitors are not real people at all – just vague messages about loneliness, love and desire.
Scammers also troll legitimate dating websites looking for victims to eventually extract money from.
Canadians truly showed their heart last month by coming to the aid of typhoon victims in the Philippines. We always do. Scammers exploit that natural desire to help by setting up fake relief charities for disasters that are getting a lot of coverage in the media.
They can approach you on the street, over the phone or through the Internet. They may even display the logos of genuine charities.
All registered charities are listed on the Revenue Canada website.
Ever see signs around town or on the Internet saying you can make $10,000 a week from your home. Sometimes they just want you bank account, sometimes they want you to commit fraud on their behalf, and in some cases they are fronts for illegal money laundering or pyramid schemes.
In most cases they want money from you for “startup costs”.