Each year in the United States, many people lose money to con artist, mail fraud, and other scams. Not only will people and organizations like these take your money, they will steal your self-esteem as well. Although you may feel you are too intelligent to be "taken," anyone can be a victim. The solution is to educate yourself so that you will be able to spot scams before they hurt.
Con artist are rarely violent, but they are psychological artists who have the ability to manipulate people out of their money, assets, life insurance benefits, pensions, annuities, savings, and home equity. Because con artists have an excellent sense of timing, most people willingly give over these items. Realizing that you have made a mistake and have been taken by a con artist can destroy your self-esteem.
If you are an older adult, living alone, and are single, you are a prime target for a con artist. However, anyone can become a victim. A con artist targets the victim's most vulnerable characteristics, such as a desire to help charitable organizations, or financial need, in order to exploit.
Con artists work in person, by telephone, and through the mail. Some common phrases that should "tip you off" to a scam, mail fraud, or con artist:
- Something for nothing – you usually get nothing
- Big money guaranteed – no risk
- Cash only
- Hurry now – do not delay
- Today only
- Last chance offer – act now
- Too good to be true
- Left over merchandise
- Get rich quick
- Limited time offer
Some common scams or con schemes to be on the watch for:
This con game is usually conducted by two well-dressed women of different races. Since women are not normally considered a physical threat, potential victims are not frightened by their approach. The mix of two races reinforces in the victim's mind that the two con artists are strangers and not working together. The victim is always alone and is usually an older, well-dressed woman who is approached in a park or a mall during regular business hours.
One of the con artists approaches the intended victim and starts a conversation, perhaps looking for directions. Soon the second con artist approaches and asks if anyone has lost a package she claims to have found in the area. The three then look into the package and find a sum of money and a note, which gives the impression that the money has been obtained illegally.
The three decide they should share the money. One of the con artists claims to know a lawyer who can advise them. This person leaves then returns saying they can keep the money — but there is a catch. It seems state law requires that all found money be held a certain period of time. But the lawyer agrees to waive the waiting period if each can show they have money to live on during the waiting period. The victim is convinced to withdraw the amount of money agreed to, place it in the bag with the "found money" and go see the lawyer. The cons switch the bags and leave the victim with a bag of shredded paper on her way to the lawyer while they are parking the car.
Bank Examiner Scam
Usually the victim is well dressed and nervous. She is told the teller is dishonest and has taken some of her money. She is asked to withdraw a sum of money from her account in cash. The swindle is similar to the pigeon drop except the con artist plays the role of a bank official or bank examiner. They phone the victim with a story that her checking or savings account has been tampered with and a dishonest teller is suspected. The victim is then instructed to give the money to the phony bank official that claims the money will be marked, then re-deposited and traced through the system to catch the dishonest teller. Needless to say, the victim will never see the money or bank official again.
These cover a variety of cons involving the sale of bibles, other religious items, and services that the con artist claims were ordered by the deceased just prior to his or her death. A variation of this can consist of a ruse entry in which someone claims to be a minister volunteering to counsel the victim. Once in the house, the con artist claim that he or she needs to use the rest room and uses the opportunity to commit theft.
In this scam, victims are tricked into ordering subscriptions for magazines they are told will be distributed to hospitals, nursing homes, and similar places. Others are simply talked into ordering magazines they do not need by overly courteous people who play on their sympathy with tales of hardship and good intentions.
As with magazine subscriptions, sometimes there are no insurance policies at all, or those that are issued are totally inappropriate or duplicative for the victims.
Faked Pedestrian Accidents
These involve slip and falls and other fake accidents to make victims believe that they have injured an innocent pedestrian.
These usually begin with a repairman arriving at the victim's door and informing him or her that there is a problem with the roof or driveway, and they can repair it immediately. They normally ask for payment before the job is complete.
Your best defense in any of these situations is to investigate everything carefully. The Better Business Bureau and the Attorney General's Office can provide you with information. Always be aware of unsolicited offers. Avoid hasty decisions. Take the time to thoroughly read, discuss and understand any paperwork you sign. Criminal fraud is often hard to detect, so caution should always be exercised.