By Debbie Burke
Something for nothing is the bait that lures many people to fall for scams. Even more insidious are the ones that promise to solve a bona-fide problem. When there is pending legislation about that problem, the scam becomes even more convincing.
With skyrocketing gas prices, the stage is set for enterprising fraudsters who never let a good crisis go to waste.
Attorney Steve Weisman, creator of Scamicide.com, is consistently on the forefront of new scams that surface faster than lawn mushrooms after a rain. (His alerts have spawned several True Crime Thursday posts and he graciously agreed to be quoted again.)
The latest scam he highlighted is the Federal Fuel Relief Program.
Except there is no such program.
The FTC reports an uptick in calls, emails, and texts supposedly from government representatives who offer rebates or relief checks to soften the impact of high gas prices.
According to Steve: “All you need do, they tell you, is provide some personal and financial information in order to be eligible for the program.”
Sounds simple, right? Simple for scammers to steal your information to commit further fraud.
Why do people continue to fall for these tricks? Because it’s increasingly confusing to parse out actual facts from the news/rumor mill.
It’s even more difficult when some municipalities are in fact paying out such rebates, as described in this article on GoBankingRates.com:
The city of Chicago has already started issuing some of the 50,000 prepaid $150 gas cards and 100,000 prepaid $50 transit cards approved by the city council.
North Carolina and California have pending legislation for similar measures. Californians could qualify for up to $1050 in relief.
The proposed Gas Rebate Act of 2022 is currently being discussed in the U.S House of Representatives, potentially with payments of $100/month or higher to qualified households during every month that average gas prices are above $4/gallon.
Whether these or other proposals pass is up in the air. Some end up only being hot air.
But people often assume they’ve gone into effect. Next thing they know, that friendly, helpful “government employee” calls up, offering to expedite the process. Just verify your Social Security number and bank account number so they can direct-deposit the rebate.
Steve’s tagline is “Trust me, you can’t trust anybody.” That includes the caller ID that claims the IRS or Social Security is on the line or a link in an official-looking email or text that takes you to a fraudulent site masquerading as a government agency.
Scammers continue to refine their tactics and grow ever more sophisticated and convincing with their frauds.
Warn family and friends, particularly seniors who are prime targets, NEVER to give out personal information when someone calls, emails, or texts, without first verifying the sender is legitimate.
The Federal Fuel Relief Program is pure flatulence. The only relief is to hang up or hit delete.
TKZers: What’s the latest scam you or someone you know has been targeted by?
Feel free to share horror stories. The more we know, the less likely we are to be victimized.
Please check out my thriller Stalking Midas about a glamorous con artist who targets an addled millionaire with nine feral cats.
Great post, Debbie. Thanks for the warning about the “gas relief” program. What an appropriate name.
The ones that irritate me the most are the ones that are right out there in plain sight. We all knew the Clinton Foundation was paying for weddings and travel, with a percentage spent on “administration” that was outrageously high. Yet nothing was ever done about it.
Publisher’s Clearing House: “Win $5000/week FOREVER.” That’s approximately $250,000/year. Next year (with another winner), they would be paying out $500,000/year. At four years they’re paying out 1 million/year. That business plan is not possible.
And the latest one that irks me: Balance of Nature, Fruits and Veggies. Take 6 capsules/day and think you’re getting a mountain of fruit and veggies per day. When they first began advertising on TV, they explained that fruits and vegetables were approximately 85% water. Okay, that means the final product is 15% of the volume of the original fruit or vegetable. So, multiply the volume of the capsules by 7 (15%x7=105%). We’re being generous. You’re lucky to get the volume of 1/2 an apple or vegetable. Now, the RDA (recommended daily allowance) of vitamins is set by the US Agriculture Department, and many would agree that the RDA’s are low. If you listen to the commercials carefully, the advertiser is very careful to say that the amount of product in 6 capsules will provide the “recommended” amount of vitamins. But, the preceding part of the commercial IMPLIES that you’re getting a huge number of servings of fruits and vegetables. Every time I watch the commercial, I yell, “Do the math!”
Well, Debbie, you have me awake now. I think I’m revved up to get 15% of my “RWA” (recommended word allowance) done each 15 minutes every week for life.
Oh, if you want some “gas relief,” decrease your bean and nut intake.
Have a great week!
Steve, thanks for chiming in on that snake oil–I mean, vitamins. The old-time hucksters traveling from town to town bilking yokels seem almost charming compared to today’s sharks.
TKZ guarantees to fulfill your daily RWA or your money back!
Great response, Steve! You even got me revved up with “out-write” energy to go beyond my word quota today. 🙂
Our phone company gives us the option to make callers press 1 before the call goes through. Robots can’t press 1. We also can input 20 (I think) numbers that will always go through, for family, frequent callers etc., so our spam calls have dropped to almost nothing.
My 90+ year-old-mother got the “I’m your grandson and need money because I’m in jail” call, but fortunately, her caregiver called me on her cell and told me what was happening. My mom’s cognitive abilities are such that she wouldn’t think why her grandson would call her ‘Grandma’, not the name the family uses, and why he’d call her and not his wife or parents. I told the caregiver to grab the phone and hang it up and explain it was a scam call. I reported it to the FCC.
Terry, I never answer the phone anymore unless I recognize the number. Legitimate callers leave a message. The rest are robos.
Thank goodness your mom’s caregiver interceded. Watchful, caring family is the first line of defense against predators.
I got a call from my granddaughter yesterday. She was obviously crying. I could hear the tears in her sweet little voice. She called me ‘grandpa,’ which was a bit odd, but she was evidently very upset, so it didn’t raise any flags. I told the little twerp to get lost.
What tipped you off? The fact you don’t have a granddaughter?
Yes, that must have been it.
Sadly, my mother has fallen for several of these scams. It started with the pop up warning from “Microsoft” to fix a virus on her computer for only $500. Yes I am an IT professional. That started the phone calls and emails.
“Publisher’s Clearing House” scams. There really is a PCH they are almost crooks. They have a whole page devoted to how crooks use their name to scam people.
Mom has “won” 4 Mercedes and a Chevy at last count. All she has to do is pay the delivery fee or tax.
My brother and I now pay her bills. They still call. On occasion she tries to tell me she needs Best Buy gift cards.
Alan, thank goodness your mom has you and your brother watching out for her b/c scammers never give up.
The classic is known as the Nigerian letter or a 419 scam. The Nigerian prince who will pay you several million dollars to funnel money through your bank account. They existed on paper long before emails. They really did come from Nigeria originally and are illegal under code 419 of Nigerian law. That doesn’t mean Nigeria enforces that law.
About 20 years ago a Canadian man discovered that his mother had been taken for her life savings by a Nigerian letter. He also discovered Nigerian authorities would do nothing and the Canadians couldn’t do much overseas. He found a solution.
He shot the Nigerian ambassador with his deer rifle.
Whoa, that’s quite a solution, Alan. I’d be interested to hear the jury’s verdict on that case.
I think it was 5 years.
I have a natural skepticism around unsolicited calls from random strangers which has only been reinforced by the huge upswing in them. For a long while, it was the Windows scam. That was easy for me–Microsoft is not going to call *you* about a problem. That’s what Windows updates are for. And a computer virus–that’s on you to fix or prevent by having your OS up to date and a virus/malware scanner installed 🙂
Then there were the endless calls about the warranty on my car having expired. No kidding, my car turned 19 this month–the warranty expired 15 years ago. (I haven’t gotten one of these calls in months but you get the idea).
Lately it’s the Publisher’s Clearing House scam, or the Lottery version of same.
What aids my skepticism are the new likely spam call notifications on both our land line and cell phones. We screen all calls from unknown numbers anyway, but this makes that even easier.
The part that’s hard to bear is the thought that some people fall victim to these everyday, since scammers wouldn’t keep doing this unless at least a few people fell for it.
Thanks for sharing this important post. Have a great Thursday!
Several times each day, my buddy “Spam Risk” shows on my caller ID.
You’re so right, Dale, that vast numbers of people continue to fall for these scheme which is why they proliferate. Very sad.
If you get involved in buying and selling musical instruments on craigslist or facebook marketplace or even reverb you will still get the occasional scammer who agrees to buy your instrument sight unseen but will have their movers pick it up please provide your name address email bank account number and other details.
The first dead giveaway is they refer to your guitar as “your item”. No enthusiast would do that.
The payment is always sketchy. One guy insisted he would only use google wallet. Usually it is the phony cashier’s check dodge.
Details in the grammar, spelling and diction often reveal that the scammer is offshore.
You can have a lot of fun stringing these people along in any number of creative and interesting ways. I had one guy going where I convinced him that I was actually a homeless mildly retarded person who’d found the guitar in a house I was squatting in and that it belonged to Gene Vincent and the Blue Caps.
More often I just tell them I sell for cash, delivery to be made in the parking lot of the Clive police station, they hand over the cash and they get the guitar. That’s when they disappear.
Here’s a record of one. It has to be read from the bottom up but folks may find it interesting in how I strung the guy along. It’s cheap entertainment.
Aw, Robert, I’m sorry your third grade teacher hit you over the head with the Websters Dictionary but that probably started you down the writing path so there’s a silver lining.
Love your cover, Debbie!
As for scams, ugh. They’re never-ending. My husband almost fell prey when he received an email with a button to click. He is no longer allowed to click anything without prior approval. 😉
The local hospital system in its infinite wisdom decided to text patients’ phones with links to medical test results. Sure, I’ll just click on this suspicious link. Never mind they’ve had repeated data breaches. Sheesh!
Great post, Debbie. It’s no surprise the scammers jump on every crisis to see if they can milk it. They probably have software that scans news articles looking for the word “crisis” to see where their next scheme will be effective.
I believe one reason so many older people are susceptible to these crimes is that they (the older folks) were raised in a time when honesty and decency were taken for granted. It’s a cruel thing to take advantage of the elderly, and I hope we can come up with a way to make the punishment fit the crime. Now that’s something I’d vote for.
“Trust me, you can’t trust anybody.” Steve Weisman’s tagline is both hilarious and sad at the same time. Quite an accomplishment.
Kay, you absolutely nailed one major reason why seniors are vulnerable. Sad that we have to be suspicious of everything and everyone.
Yes, Steve is great with irony.
Actually, it’s fear. Scammers know that if you get someone afraid (or angry), they disconnect their rational mind and run on their brain’s survival region (AKA “The Guardienne,” “the automatic self,” the “limbic brain,” or “the adaptive unconscious.”) In many people, that region is faster than it is smart.
I sure hope politicians don’t learn about that. We’d be totally hosed if that happens.
Too late, J., politicians have already mastered that technique.
They are very good at what they do. One of the hooks they used on my mom was to fund a memorial for my father.
That is too awful for words, Alan.
I keep getting text messages on my work cell that I need to update and pay for Amazon Prime Membership. However, I know it’s a scam because the phone is my day job number, (not the correct phone). Pretty easy to spot those ones.
I also see texts that want me to pay import duties, and they are representing DSL or FEDEX which is also crap.
Ben, unfortunately more and more legit businesses are using texts to communicate with customers, which really irritates me b/c there are so many fakes, as you say. The other day, the company that repaired my refrigerator sent the invoice by text. The only way to see it was to tap on a link. Grrrrr.
I just tossed a snail mail letter this morning from a place that says I should hurry to buy an extended car warranty because the price goes up next month. The envelope had all kinds of stamps about the urgency of the communication. Total waste of their postage since I don’t own a car. 🙂
Let ’em waste their money on postage, Kathy. Maybe that will discourage them. But probably not.
Thanks for stopping by, Kirsten.
I get a scam email about every three weeks or so, Debbie. Without exception, I forward them all to Sue Coletta.
Gee, Garry, I thought you guys were friends. Remind me never to get on your bad side.