Watching out for scams

AG says it's hard to keep up with Internet crooks


Imagine you are one of the many unemployed people in America these days. You have been out of work for over a year and you have been sending your resumé to potential employers for months. Your savings are drying up and you are feeling desperate. Then you get an e-mail like this:

“Hello ____:
Thank you for submitting your information for potential employment opportunities.
We look forward to reviewing your application,
but can not do so until you complete our internal application.
The pay range for available positions range from $35.77 per hour to $57.62 per hour.
Prior to begin able to be considered, you will first need you to formally apply.
Please go here to begin the process:
Also, the following perks are potentially available:
- Paid Time Off
- Health Benefits Package
- Higher than average salaries
- Tuition Reimbursement
- Extensive 401(k) program
Please take the time to follow the directions and complete the entire application process.
Best Regards,
Rock Cruit Managemen

It sounds too good to be true, and it is. It’s just one of the more recent Internet scams to get people to divulge personal information that a “phishing” criminal can use to drain your bank account. This one is pretty transparent in that the syntax and the way English is used gives the writer away as a non-native speaker, which should be a red flag for most consumers who are familiar with English. But there are many people in this country who are not native speakers and grammatical mistakes would go unnoticed. An unsuspecting job applicant submits the information requested and finds that whatever was left in his or her bank account is gone by the next business day.

“When the economy makes people desperate, the scammers come out of the woodwork with new ways to take advantage of it,” said Tammy A. Miller, the Director of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit.

Miller was just getting back from another presentation of their outreach program to educate seniors and other vulnerable people about protecting themselves from scam artists, whether they are operating online or in person. Not surprisingly, scammers have taken to the Internet like ducks to water, inventing new scams or adapting old standbys to the new medium.

By now, just about everyone is aware of the “Nigerian money scams” that have been around even longer than the Internet. Nevertheless, people still fall for it and have lost more than their savings in pursuit of the elusive bank funds.

“People have been killed,” said Tammy A. Miller, the director of the Rhode Island Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Unit. “After they have been strung along and invested their money, they went to Nigeria to collect their money and just disappeared.”

The Consumer Protection Unit investigates and mediates consumer complaints concerning business practices and misleading advertising arising out of alleged violations of the Deceptive Trade Practices Act. Miller admits that, when it comes to the Internet, there is not always a lot her office can do, other than warn consumers.

Unlike the typical Nigerian scheme, the employment agency scam relies on desperation and not greed to pull its victims in. In that respect, the phony employment agency resembles the many mortgage mitigation scammers who have been preying on people who are desperately trying to save their homes and fall for scammers who are all too willing to take whatever is left of a homeowner’s money for doing next to nothing. Miller said her office has had some success on a local level in closing down mortgage modifiers that actually put homeowners in an even bigger hole than the one they claim to pull them out of.

“There is plenty of legitimate government help and advice out there for people who need it,” said Miller. “The first thing to remember is that it is illegal for a mortgage modifier to ask for a fee up front. These are people who say they can stop a foreclosure or get mortgage modification but they really just want your money. If they ask for a fee up front, don’t deal with them.”

In general, the Internet is not a good place to conduct your banking or financial transactions and most legitimate banks have secure sites for their customers and never solicit them with e-mail, which is why you should not reply to e-mails telling you that your account information needs to be updated before you can get any money out of your account. You should, however, call your bank and ask them if they are aware of the scam.

“Once you reply to them [the scammers] they will use the information to hack into your account and empty it,” said Miller. “And, they can fix it so that, when you attempt to check your account online, there is nothing unusual going on and the online statement looks normal – until you get the hard copy of your statement in the mail and find out you have been robbed.”

Miller’s office boasts that it has had some success in coping with scams across borders, such as working with the Canadian Mounties to close down a mortgage modification scammer in the Yukon.

“It’s hard to believe that all this woman had was a desk and a computer in a remote place called Yellowknife but she was offering $10,000 loans and collecting $4,000 in fees before she was through,” said Assistant Attorney General James R. Lee, the Chief of the Civil Division. “But, for the most part, when you send money out of this country, you may as well forget about ever seeing it again.”

Just as common in e-mail these days are the lottery winning notifications. You are told, out of the blue, that you have won a lottery you never entered in a country you have never been to and all you have to do is send some money to cover taxes and a nominal fee to have the money sent to your account. People who do that have not only given the scammers money up front, but have also given account information so the scammers can get you again on the way out.

The Consumer Protection Unit has lots of advise about buying online from legitimate websites as well.

“You should always be sure that you are using a secure site and you should never, never click onto a link in an e-mail to go to a store,” said Miller. “‘Phishing’ scams can use e-mail to get you to go to them and use your credit card. Once you have done that, they have got you. You should always go directly to the store’s site to buy anything. And you should always make sure it is a secure site.”

You will sometimes get e-mails that tell you your credit score has changed or your Paypal account is frozen, or your package delivery is being held up because they need more information. These are all ways to lure an unsuspecting person to open his or her account information for a scammer. Be especially cautious about prizes or special discounts or other unsolicited bonuses from people you haven’t done business with before.

“I hate to say it because it sounds like a cliché, but it’s true,” said Miller. “If it sounds too good to be true, it more than likely isn’t true.”

For Miller and her office, it often must seem like an unending battle. They no sooner warn consumers about one scam than someone come up with yet another. But they keep making the rounds at senior centers, libraries and schools to make people aware of them. They have complied the Rhode Island Consumer Protection Guide: A How-To Guide For Today’s Consumer. To get a copy of it, or to arrange a presentation for your community, contact or call 274-4400 ext. 2397.

In the meantime, our Nigerian friends are relentless in their pursuit of new victims with e-mails like this:

Sorry for the inconveniences that was rendered to you in your line of Inheritance Payment transaction with some impersonators some while ago.
I know that this letter will hit you by surprise, but firstly I will like to introduce myself;
I am (Hon. Justice Emmanuel Olayinka Ayoola) the Legal chairman of "ICPC", (Nigeria's Anti-Fraud Unit).
Please Read The Attached Message For More Details
Justice Emmanuel Olayinka

That’s right folks, Justice Olayinka wants to make things right for all the people that got ripped off by his countrymen over the years. Just sent him your account number, plus a modest fee, and your money is a good as in the bank…


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