Top 10 Scams of 2013

By: Michigan City Police Department Last Updated: December 27, 2013

Michigan-City-PoliceWritten by Chris Yagelski

Five years have passed since I started reporting on Scams and Frauds to educate the Citizen’s of La Porte County. I am amazed at how many scams have surfaced and resurfaced over the years.

I decided to create a Top 10 Scams of 2013 list that I have uncovered and reported during this time. It is amazing, looking back, how many of the scams I have reported five years ago continue to plague victims today. I receive calls from all over the country of victim’s experiencing the same scams as it is not unique to our area.

The rapid change in the shape and operation of the Internet, notably the huge growth of social networking, has introduced new techniques for delivering scams, and the number of victims has gone up by leaps and bounds.

There have been high incidents of hijacking Hotmail and Facebook accounts by hackers who then claim to be the account holder in urgent need of cash.

Not surprisingly at all the scam which is the root of most scams is the offense of “phishing” -- the crime of stealing personal information for identity theft -- which is by far the biggest scam and remains firmly at the head of my Top 10 scams list for 2013.

Let's now take a look at my top 10 SCAMS for 2013

#10. Grandparent Scam This one usually re-surfaces a few times a year. In these types of scams, the perpetrator often calls a grandparent or other relative pretending to be his/her grandchild/niece/nephew, etc. The caller sounds upset and typically states there are only a few moments to talk. Callers may say that they have a cold if you don't quite recognize their voice, or cue-in on feedback from the call to sound even more convincing (scam victims often report being sure they were talking to their actual relative, but it's a clever trick!). Their story generally follows a familiar line: they were traveling in another country with a friend, and after a car accident or legal infraction, they are in jail and need bail money wired to a Western Union account as soon as possible for their quick release.

#9. Doorstep Scams These types of offers include a deal to seal or repave your driveway, a roofer with left over material from a previous job, a furnace repair that you didn’t schedule or a gas fireplace “inspection.” These fraudulent “contractors” use high-pressure sales tactics and offers of a one-time deal to entice or frighten consumers into expensive and often unnecessary home repairs.

#8. Work from home schemes A work-at-home scam is a get-rich-quick scheme in which a victim is lured by an offer to be employed at home, very often doing some simple task in a minimal amount of time with a large amount of income that far exceeds the market rate for the type of work. The true purpose of such an offer is for the perpetrator to extort money from the victim, either by charging a fee to join the scheme, or requiring the victim to invest in products by cashing a bogus check and sending a “sample” Western Union payment to their corporate office.

#7. Lottery Scams Sadly, as I report all of the time, this crime targets mainly the elderly. There's apparently still no shortage of victims willing to pay up to hundreds of thousands of dollars in bogus fees to collect non-existent winnings. Remember…. “If it is too good to be true…it is usually not true.” And you cannot win a lottery or raffle or drawing if you have never entered or purchased a ticket!

#6. Nigerian Scams The continuing efforts by the Nigerian government to clamp down on this scam seem to be having little effect. A TV documentary broadcast a few months ago showed how whole towns in and around the Gold Coast have become dependent on the proceeds of scams.

I would like to point out that the latest version of the Nigerian scam claims that a compensation fund has been set up and invites previous victims to put in a claim pretending they are filing a “class action suit” against the original scammers. Then, of course, the scammer requests a fee before the supposed compensation can be released and the vicious circle continues.

#5. Lonely Hearts Club Scam Through efforts on Facebook and other dating sites crooks are always looking to scam someone into sending gifts or financial help to alleged “Friends”.

Thieves are also muscling in on the bogus “Girlfriend Scam” or “Mail-order Bride”. Victims are befriending alleged girlfriends online, and end up paying supposedly for airfares and other expenses for their new but non-existent sweetheart.

#4. Malware Scams Malware short for “malicious software” is software used to disrupt computer use, gather sensitive information, or gain access or freeze private computers. As reported earlier this year people were receiving “Notices from the FBI” over improper downloading and were required to send in a payment to “unfreeze” their computer and pay the fine.

#3. Computer MICROSOFT virus fixing scheme Scammers often call as a “Microsoft Representative” in which most people understand this term or remember it displayed on their computers. Scammers then warn victims their computer has been infected with a virus and offer to clean it. But the scammer is really trying to gain remote access to the computer to steal credit card information. The scammer will say they need remote access to provide the supposed services, and will ask for computer passwords and related information. They will also ask for credit card information so they can bill for the supposed services.

#2. Green Dot Card scams Residents receive a phone call informing them they have “Won” a prize or sweepstakes and all they have to do is buy a legitimate Green Dot Card. They usually lure you in further by asking you where you purchase your prescriptions or where you feel comfortable. Pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, and stores such as Meijer’s and Wal-Mart all carry these legitimate cards for a service fee of $4.95.

Green Dot cards are reloadable credit cards that are not tied to bank or credit union. The caller makes you feel that this is safe because you are purchasing this card locally.

The caller informs them that “IT IS NOT A SCAM” and by just purchasing the cards and loading up a certain amount of money it makes you eligible to receive prizes right through the mail or have the “lottery money” sent right to your home.

Next in order to receive your prizes or money you must call back this phony company and “Confirm your purchase” by just reading them the numbers off of this card to show your eligibility.

At this point the perpetrator of the scam “instantly dumps the balance of your card to his account” this now makes the victim helpless in getting any of the money back.

In other words, it's a money transfer that bypasses the traditional cash-wiring companies and offers a far more effective cloak of anonymity for scammers.

#1. Phishing and Identify Theft The invasion by scammers of social networking sites, such as Facebook and Twitter, together with malware downloads (see above) making this crime the top slot of 2013. We must be so diligent in our efforts to not give any information over the telephone to anyone.

However, for the New Year, a newcomer that I expect to grow significantly in the coming months is "Skimming” and “Cell Phone Text Messages”. Skimming involves a variety of crimes including thefts from ATM machines and capturing of credit card information at restaurants, gas stations and other retail outlets.

Instead of sending you a phishing email, scammers send you a cell phone text message, supposedly from your bank, asking you to visit a website whose address looks genuine. It isn't, and once keyed in, takes you to a bogus site that asks for personal details so the bank can "unlock" or "verify" your account.

Solution: As with phishing emails, never follow a link, even one you have to manually key in, that you don't know for sure. And never provide confidential information unless you know the site is secure -- with an "s" in the "https" part of the address line and/or a padlock icon in the message area of your browser.

Compiling this list of the Top 10 Scams is not a pleasant task but I have found that educating the public is our number one way we can fight becoming potential victims.

However, it does reinforce our determination to do everything we possibly can to reduce the impact of these despicable crimes. By highlighting the risks and publishing this top scams list, which I invite you to pass on to friends and relatives, perhaps we can do just that.