Looking For Scam Victims

Have you been the victim of a scam? Or had someone try to scam you? I’m working on a Reader’s Digest article scams and am looking for some anecdotes about specific “ripped from the headline” type scams. The scams and national trends I’m looking at are posted inside. If your story fits the trend but not necessarily the exact scam, I want to hear from you too. If you have a good story and are willing to have your picture published, please send a note with your contact info to ben@consumerist.com, subject: Scam Tales.

ESCOS (energy service companies) promise savings over your default provider, but they use questionable sales tactics targeting and manipulating elderly and non-native English speakers. Bills can skyrocket as the rates are now variable and subject to the volatility of the spot energy market.

The ad promises extremely low moving rates. Foreclosed, strapped-for-cash, short on time, you hire the moving company. Everything is going great until you reach your new home. Claiming that the items actual weight is much greater than the estimate, the delivery price has suddenly spiked. Pay up, or everything you own gets sold at auction.

Scammers spam out fake charitable donation requests, luring the generous into phishing websites.

Patients can find even pre-approved insurance claims denied and in-network providers are all of a sudden somehow no longer in the network.

ONLINE AUCTION SITES (advance fee fraud)
You sell an item on ebay or craigslist and the buyer wants to pay you with a check or money order in excess of the value of the item. The buyer tells you that a “shipping agent” is going to pick up the item and send it to them, but they need you to mail the shipping agent his fee, which is what the extra money is for. The original check ends up being fake, and you lose your sale item and the money you paid out.

An automated phone messages says jobs are available if you call this number. While you wait on hold, you’re actually racking up a $9/minute phone bill.

Some gas stations are intentionally shorting customers at the pump.

“Annuity funds,” actually insurance in disguise, are being aggressively marketed towards seniors using deceptive tactics. Payouts don’t start for years, many of the elders may not live to see the benefit, and there’s incredibly stiff penalties for early withdrawals. Very bad news for people who put their entire life savings in them.

After completing one purchase, people are told that they can earn a $10 gift card just by completing a survey or providing their email address. Tiny print informs them that, just kidding, they’re actually agreeing to get charged $10-$20/month on their credit card for a “service” of no discernible value.

(Illustration: Getty)


Edit Your Comment

  1. Myotheralt says:

    Oo can I be one?

  2. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    Welcome to CSPVU: Consumerist Special Victims’ Unit.

  3. iliveinyoureyelid says:

    There was this one that told me that I had almost won $500,000. And that I was selected as %1 of %1 of Canadian selected to win. After reading the fine print, found out that my chances of winning was 1 in almost 2,000,000.

    So I never subscribed to their magazine.

  4. nsv says:

    How many people will actually admit to falling for these?

    When I used to sell on eBay and actually used to accept checks, I had a huge bold red warning that if an item was paid for by check, the item would not ship until the check cleared. I also gave suggestions for avoiding this (a Post Office money order at the time cost $.85.) I got a few ugly comments but almost nobody paid me by check.

    The thing that amazed me, though, was the time I sold an item for about $300 to a buyer in the UK. A thick envelope arrived, containing his payment in $20 bills. I shipped, of course, but I wonder how many people would say they never got the envelope.

  5. godlyfrog says:

    A friend of mine at work got hit with the standard craigslist scam: “Ooops I sent too much money, can you send back most of the change, and keep a couple hundred for yourself?” She was trying to sell an electric organ and was asking me if I thought it was a scam. I told her it was the standard scam, and to not wire the money. She had already wired the money via Western Union, but was lucky enough to be able to stop the transfer, although Western Union kept the fees.

  6. imwm says:

    I’ve actually done a few of the offers for the free $10 (sometimes $20) gift cards. I read the fine print, canceled before the trial period was up, and got my gift cards. Not really a scam.

  7. ConsumptionJunkie says:

    @imwm: agree

  8. Whiskey Tango Foxtrot says:

    My Grandma got caught up in the “You’re a winner of a million dollars! Now cough up $$ for processing fees, which will keep getting larger the longer we string you along” scam. They’d milked her of about 10 grand before my Mom caught onto what was happening, and closed her bank accounts.

  9. SybilDisobedience says:

    @Neecy: That’s a shame. I don’t know any elderly personally who’ve been victimized, but I’ve read some news stories in that vein – including one of a woman with early dementia who managed to wipe out her and her husband’s life savings before she realized what she had done. Evidence shows that she committed suicide after the revelation, though her body’s never been found.

  10. mayrc87 says:

    My husband works for a moving company and he heard of many people that were scammed with the “price is higher after your stuff is in the truck”. After the moving guys put your stuff in the truck they make you sign a piece of paper full of fine prints charging the customer for travel time, tape, box, blankets, dolly, hand truck, driver and helpers. So instead of paying the $40 hour you are paying $150 hour

  11. simplekismet says:

    I’m not sure on all the details, but my father hit the magic age (around 68-69 years?) when you’re required to start withdrawing from retirement (pension?). He went down to our friendly local credit union to set up the withdrawals to go into a savings account he has there because he and my mother hadn’t decided what to do with the money yet (money market, investing, etc.).

    He came home with an annuity. We don’t know what the hell they told him or why he signed the papers so quick (he’s not senile yet.. they really just sold him on the idea) but as soon as we can pull the money out without penalty we’re taking the whole damn thing and moving it to another bank entirely, with a note informing the bank that we’re taking the $50k elsewhere because they failed to act in my father’s best interest.

    My boyfriend works as an assistant at a small financial planning firm. His boss refuses to sell annuities, period, because they’re not in the best interest of the customer.

    Not a good enough story for your article, sorry, but I hope you find some good stuff to write about annuities because people need to know!

  12. TwoScoopsRice says:

    @simplekismet: I second the request for details on annuities.

    We’ve learned to our sadness that the presumably after-tax money an elderly relative put into an annuity was fully taxable to us upon her passing. I say “to our sadness” because she worked hard for that money and thought she was making a wise, prudent decision.

  13. sickofthis says:

    You should write about foreclosure “rescue” scams. See this story:


    It originally appeared in The Tennessean, but it has disappeared from the archives for some reason.

  14. Elsmooth says:

    you should really look into these preforeclosure “rent to own” scams. All you have to do is cruise around the apt for rent section of craigslist for about 5 minutes and you’ll see a ton of them.

  15. guevera says:

    I almost got caught up in an on-line scam involving a lazy pseudo-journalist trying to find saps online that will provide him with the elements needed to build an article about scams and frauds for a general interest periodical.

    The guy was hoping to get anecdotes, color, and the all important (to editors) “real people.” Those are the elements you need to hang an article on when you don’t have a hard news peg… it allows you to back into it with an anecdotal lede.

    This scammer was hoping to avoid any actual shoe leather reporting by using his current position working for a tightfisted new media based publisher to give him what he needs to advance his budding career as a consumer expert in the (better-paying and still more prestigious) MSM.

    Thank god I spotted that scam and didn’t let him take advantage of me!

  16. gc3160thtuk says you got your humor in my sarcasm and you say you got your sarcasm in my humor says:

    Well I have not been victim of a scam but as someone who sells Moneygram I try to warn people of potential scams but I can do little more than ask them if they personally know the intended recipient of the funds they are sending. I recently met a young man whose father was sending money to a woman in Nigeria and she was supposedly coming to the US to marry the father. I asked the young man all the requisite questions but in the end I still had to send the money. I hope his father wasn’t really scammed but I don’t hold out much hope for that. BTW, good luck guevera, I hope the ban doesn’t hurt much. I think your diss of what Popken and all do is very ignorant and I fail to find any humor in it whatsoever and do hope he puts the hatchet on you for that one.

  17. Tyr_Anasazi says:

    @guevera: Reminds me of another serious problem I’ve heard about. People who opt to make negative comments on threads that hold no interest for them because they don’t have the ability to use their keyboard or mouse to go past that particular thread…

  18. Nofsdad says:

    Good post! Ever since I’ve been here, I’ve marveled at the number of people who just seem to come here to demonstrate their cuteness or cleverness and their rather dubious skills at satire. All they do is add irrelevancy to the subjects they’re claiming are already irrelevant.

  19. If they send this just to people with eBay accounts they’ll have enough material to fill a library.

  20. AaronZ says:

    OMG! That moving scam just happened to a friend of mine!

    I forwarded this article to him and suggested he contact the writer.

    Thanks for posting this.

  21. SigmundTheSeaMonster says:

    How about those warranty scams? You know, where you start receiving “official” vehicle warranty forms and letters (I love how it has printing on the envelope “Confidential” yet is sent bulk rate) and even get calls about your late model car warranty coverage from the manufacturer.
    I think car dealers or DOT is selling our info, or it’s getting resold somewhere.

    I received a call from this “Nissan Warranty Claim Service” about my 2004 Maxima. As soon as the guy mentions the car, I scream into the phone, “Why won’t you leave me alone!!! My wife and child died in that car and the accident! Why do you keep calling!!!”…they hang up. I laugh (sorry, I’m not married nor did anyone die in that car.).

    Ironic I haven’t owned that car for 3 years. Too many recalls.

  22. pbwelch says:

    This doesn’t fit under scam, but just happened to me and is upsetting. I logged onto my credit card web site ( in the evening) to download the activity and noticed that the last login had been at 2:30 that morning. I was hospitalized that entire night and was not even near a computer at 2:30 in the morning. Finally was able to extract the information from the card company that there had been a request for another card on that date. They wouldn’t tell me anything else…just closed the account immediately and are sending a new card with a new number. Fortunately whoever requested the card did not have time to receive it in the mail before the account was closed. I have several spyware/virus programs and thought it unlikely that anyone could steal my userID/password, but apparently it did happen and it had to have happened online. I guess the moral of this story is to keep a close watch on credit card and bank accounts, which I do.