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The Villages
Friday, July 12, 2024

Scams often offer promises too good to be true

Lady Lake Police Chief Chris McKinstry

As the Chief of Police for the Town of Lady Lake I am often asked, “What can I do to stop folks from becoming a victim of a scam?” I can tell you the most important thing we all can do is pass the following information along to our friends, family and co-workers so they are aware of these common scams and prevent them from becoming a potential target.


The most widespread internet and email scam today is the modern day “sting” con game. “Phishing” is where digital thieves lure you into divulging your password info through convincing emails and web pages. These phishing emails and web pages resemble legitimate credit authorities like Citibank, eBay, or PayPal. They frighten or entice you into visiting a phony web page and entering your ID and password. Commonly, the guise is an urgent need to “confirm your identity.” They will even offer you a story of how your account has been attacked by hackers to lure you into entering your confidential information.

The email message will require you to click on a link. But instead of leading you to the real login https: site, the link will secretly redirect you to a fake website. You then innocently enter your ID and password. This information is intercepted by the scammers, who later access your account and fleece you for your hard earned money.

This phishing con, like all cons, depends on people believing the legitimacy of their emails and web pages. Because it was born out of hacking techniques, “fishing” is stylistically spelled “phishing” by hackers.

Tip: the beginning of the link address should have https://. Phishing fakes will just have http:// (no “s”). If still in doubt, make a phone call to the financial institution to verify if the email is legit. In the meantime, if an email seems suspicious to you, do not trust it. Being skeptical could save you hundreds, if not thousands, of lost dollars.

The Nigerian Scam, a/k/a 419

Most of you, like me, have received an email from a member of a Nigerian family with wealth. It is a desperate cry for help in getting a very large sum of money out of the country. A common variation is a woman in Africa who claimed that her husband had died and that she wanted to leave millions of dollars of his estate to a good church.

In every variation, the scammer is promising obscenely large payments for small unskilled tasks. This scam, like most scams, is too good to be true. Yet people still fall for this money transfer con game.

They will use your emotions and willingness to help against you. They will promise you a large cut of their business or family fortune. All you are asked to do is cover the endless “legal” and other “fees” that must be paid to the people that can release the scammer’s money.

The more you are willing to pay, the more they will try to suck out of your wallet. You will never see any of the promised money because there isn’t any. And the worst thing is, this scam is not even new; its variant dates back to 1920s when it was known as ‘The Spanish Prisoner’ con.

Lottery Scam

Most of us dream of hitting it big, quitting our jobs and retiring while still young enough to enjoy the fine things in life. Chances are you will receive at least one intriguing email from someone saying that you did indeed win a huge amount of money. The visions of a dream home, fabulous vacation, or other expensive goodies you could now afford with ease, could make you forget that you have never ever entered this lottery in the first place.

This scam will usually come in the form of a conventional email message. It will inform you that you won millions of dollars and congratulate you repeatedly. The catch: before you can collect your “winnings”, you must pay the “processing” fee of several thousands of dollars.

Stop! The moment the bad guy cashes your money order, you lose. Once you realize you have been suckered into paying $3000 to a con man, they are long gone with your money. Do not fall for this lottery scam. 

Advanced Fees Scam (guaranteed loan or credit card)

If you are thinking about applying for a “pre-approved” loan or a credit card that charges an up-front fee, ask yourself: “why would a bank do that?” These scams are obvious to people who take the time to scrutinize the offer.

Remember: reputable credit card companies can and do charge an annual fee but it is applied to the balance of the card, never at the sign-up. Furthermore, if you legitimately clear your credit balance each month, a legitimate bank will sometimes wave the annual fee.

As for these incredible, pre-approved loans for a half-a-million dollar homes: use your common sense. These people do not know you or your credit situation, yet they are willing to offer massive credit limits.

Sadly, a percentage of all the recipients of their “amazing” offer will take the bait and pay the up-front fee. If only one in every thousand people falls for this scam, the scammers still win.  Far too many victims, pressured by financial problems, willingly step into this trap.

For Sale Items Scam

This one involves an item you might have listed for sale such as a car, truck or some  other expensive item. The scammer finds your ad and sends you an email asking for your contact information. Once you provide that, the scammer will re-contact you a day or so later and inform you that they mistakenly sent more than you were asking or offering to pay much more than your asking price. The reason for overpayment is either a mistake or supposedly related to fees to ship the item. In return, you are to send the cash for the difference.

The check or money order you receive looks real so you deposit it into your account. In a couple of days (or the time it takes to clear) your bank informs you the check or money order was fake and demands you pay that amount back immediately.

In most documented versions of this scam, the check or money order was either a forgery or never authorized by the bank it was stolen from. In the case of cashier’s checks, it is usually a convincing forgery.  If you sent the item, you have now lost the item, the cash you sent with the item, and you owe a hefty sum of money to your bank to cover the bad money order or the fake cashier’s check.  This particular scam occurs frequently in our area.  I have five, different, fake checks in my office that I had the scammers send to me while I played their game just to take up their time.   

Employment Search Scam

You have posted your resume, with at least some personal data accessible by potential employers, on a legitimate employment site. You receive a job offer to become a “financial representative” of an overseas company you have never even heard of before. The reason they want to hire you is that this company has problems accepting money from US customers and they need you to handle those payments. You will be paid 5 to 15 percent commission per transaction.

If you apply, you will provide the scammer with your personal data, such as bank account information, so you can “get paid”. Instead, you will experience some, or all, of the following:

  • identity theft,
  • money stolen from your account, or
  • receive fake checks or money orders for payments which you deposit into your account but must send 85 – 95 percent of that to your “employer”.

Do you want to guess what happens then?   If you guessed you now owe your bank a lot of money, you would be correct.

Disaster Relief Scam

What do all disasters have in common?  They are all real, tragic events where people die, lose their loved ones, or everything they own. In times like these, good people pull together to help the survivors in any way they can, including online donations. Scammers set up fake charity websites and steal the money donated to the victims of disasters.

If your request for the donation came via email, there is a chance of it being a phishing attempt. Do not click on the link in the email and volunteer your bank account or credit card information.  Contact the recognized charitable organization directly by phone or their website.

Please do not fall prey to these predators and become a statistic.

Nevertheless, if you have been victimized by any similar scam, contact your local law enforcement agency and report it.  Although these can be difficult crimes to prosecute, law enforcement is tracking these criminals and their con artist techniques.

Finally, the best and most effective way to combat this crime is to share this important information with your friends, family and co-workers. Educating the community about these cons is the first step in stopping these scammers in their tracks.

The men and women of the Lady Lake Police Department are dedicated to keeping our community safe. Help us by taking important safety precautions to ensure that you, your family, your loved ones, and your neighbors do not become victims.

Chris McKinstry is chief of police in Lady Lake.

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