You should read this.
Yes, you. We know you’re smart. We know that you’d never send money to Africa just because a Nigerian prince asked you to. We know that you always avoid the three-card monte games on the street. We know that you’ve seen enough con artist movies to be able to spot a fake check at first glance.
Just because you’re not gullible doesn’t mean you won’t ever get scammed by nice folks like your neighbor, waiter, or landlord. Many con artists know very well that you can see right through the Nigerian prince scheme, so they’ve found smarter, better, and sneakier ways to con you out of your hard-earned dollars. Often times, those scams are so successful that people don’t even realize that they’ve been robbed blind.
Those stealthy con artists make three-card monte scammers and Nigerian princes look like amateurs. Scammers are more common than you think, and they’re everywhere, often disguised as trustworthy people. The only way to beat them at their own game is to stay one step ahead of them. That means educating yourself on the many different kinds of scams you may encounter and how the scheming masterminds behind each scam operate.
Let’s start now and take a look at this list of 7 lesser-known scams unsuspecting folks fall prey to every day.
1. The extra drink
The scammer: Your restaurant server
The game: Your server tricks you into giving him free drinks on the job. If the server likes the drink you ordered, he may add one more of this same drink to your tab. You end up footing the bill while he enjoys the extra drink out of sight. The guests who fall prey to this scam are usually too tipsy to notice or even remember how many drinks they had before paying the bill without second thought.
How to win: Keep track of the number of drinks you order, and if you find that the server has tacked on an extra drink or two to your bill, alert the manager immediately.
2. The inflated tip
The scammer: Your restaurant server
The game: Your server jacks up her own tip on your bill. This scam works only if you pay with a credit card. The server may take your credit card receipt back and write in a higher tip amount after you leave the restaurant.
How to win: If the server hands you a pencil, that’s a huge red flag. Always sign your credit card receipt in ink. Write the tip amount and the total on your own copy of the credit card receipt. Hold onto it until you check your credit card statement later. If the amount on the statement matches the total on your receipt, you’re safe. If it’s higher, call the restaurant and notify the manager. If the restaurant refuses to fix the problem, call your credit card’s dispute department and explain the situation. Your credit card company will fight the restaurant for you, at no additional cost.
3. The fake rental
The scammer: Your prospective landlord
The game: A con artist posing as a landlord collects the security deposit, first month’s rent, and last month’s rent from dozens of different people and then skips town. The scammer lists a nice house or apartment at an incredible price and then awards the rental to everyone who has replied to the ad. Sometimes the scammer will even meet you at the actual property (usually a foreclosed house that’s been vacant for a while) to “show you around”. Once he has your money, he leaves town, never to be heard from again.
How to win: Do your homework. Ask for a copy of the landlord’s ID. Do a quick Google search of the landlord’s name to make sure that he’s a legitimate person. Research the property. Look up the address to see if it’s under your landlord’s name. If it’s an apartment or condo, contact the homeowners association or the property management company to find out who actually owns the rental unit. Sometimes the scammer may pose as a “friend” or a “relative” of the property owner who’s too sick or too far away to show you the unit himself. If that’s the case, always ask to meet or talk to the owner. Most importantly, don’t ever fork over a dime until you’re absolutely sure that you’re renting from a legitimate person!
4. The invisible money
The scammer: The person buying a big ticket item from you
The game: A con artist makes a big purchase from you using a check, money order, or a cashier’s check and then disappears with the item long before the check bounces or comes back as a fraud. People selling big-ticket items like cars, boats, computers, or jewelry are usually targeted for this kind of scam.
How to win: Always require that your buyer pay in cash. Always!
5. The canceled airline ticket
The scammer: The person selling you airline tickets
The game: A con artist buys an airline ticket, resells it to you, and then cancels the ticket. Not only does he get a refund from the airline, but he also gets to walk away with your money (which is pure profit at this point). The worst part is you won’t even know that the ticket has been canceled and rendered useless until you show up at the airport.
How to win: Never buy plane tickets from a reseller on Craigslist or anywhere else. Always use an official airline ticket website to purchase plane tickets you can put under your own name.
6. The fake online store
The scammer: The owner of the ecommerce store you like because the prices seem too good to be true
The game: A nice-looking website with popular items at incredibly low prices is built by a con artist. He also includes fake testimonials and bogus security logos. He does everything he can to make the website look legitimate. If you purchase something from the website, you’ll never receive it… or see your money again. The scammer will end up with your money and your credit card information.
How to win: Never trust a website you’re not familiar with. Do a Google search on the online store and read other people’s reviews and complaints. If you can’t find enough information on the online store, don’t buy anything from it. If you have a feeling that it’s a legitimate online store, but if you’re not 100% sure, check with your credit card company and see if they’ll give you a one-time credit card number to use.
7. The phone call from the front desk
The scammer: The front desk attendant at your hotel
The game: You check into a hotel and give the front desk your credit card number to cover all charges to your room. Later, your hotel phone rings and it’s the front desk attendant. She tells you that the hotel came across a problem with your credit card, and she wants you to re-read your credit card information, including the 3 security digits, to her. The thing is, it’s really not the front desk attendant. It’s just a scammer who called your hotel and asked to be put through to your room number.
How to win: Never give anyone your credit card information over the phone. Always go down to the front desk and see if it was actually the attendant who called you. If it wasn’t the front desk, notify the manager immediately. The sooner the manager knows, the sooner he will be able to implement a policy where a caller cannot be put through to a room number unless she states the guest’s full name.