10 More Scams Everyone Should Know About

Regular readers of my articles will know I like to keep Wise Bread readers informed on various scams, cons, and other nasty ways to lose your hard-earned money. Well, it's time for another round-up of scams and tips that have been sent me by victims and/or watchdogs. Remember — forewarned is forearmed. (See also: 10 Scams to Avoid in 2011)

1. Facebook Questionnaires and Games That Steal Security Answers

It's easy to get drawn into a questionnaire, especially when it's a really fun one. But while some may look innocent enough, others are set up as traps to collect information on you. They work surprisingly well. For example, have you ever been asked to post your "porn star" name? It's varied, but can be things like "your middle name and your first pet" or "your first pet's name and the street you grew up on." The answers are funny (James Parakeet or Patch Cumberland,) but they also give away some of your security answers. Avoid these if they're not with friends, or don't offer real answers.

2. The Friendly Girls Scam

If you're single or alone and two women approach you asking for directions, beware. It may be legitimate, but keep your wits about you. If they then try to get you to go somewhere with them, specifically joining them for a drink and a bite to eat at a local bar, that's when you should bid them farewell. Quickly. If you don't, you could be in for a nasty, and costly, surprise.

You will order food with them, a few drinks, the usual, and then the bill comes. To say it's as much as you'd spend on food in a month would be an understatement. You are then forcefully asked to pay it, and that can often mean taking a trip with a couple of burly guys to the nearest ATM. You can try and call the cops, but it probably won't help.

This scam has a variety of different twists. One will be a girl in a bar asking you to buy her a glass of champagne. When you get the bill, it will be hundreds of dollars. Another is them offering to pay before you eat, but then saying they don't have the money to cover the bill, or simply going to the bathroom together and disappearing.

3. The Bait and Switch CD Scam

Residents of big, busy places like New York, LA, and Chicago should get to know this one. Here's how it works. A local, "up-and-coming" musician is giving his CDs away just to get his name out there. He wants you to have a copy, and he's not asking for anything upfront. You get chatting, he gets to know your name, and he seems harmless. So, you figure you'll help a struggling musician, and take one. That's when he whips out a big fat Sharpie marker and writes your name on it. Then he asks for $15-$20 for it, and pulls the sob story that he can't give it to anyone else because it's been personalized. Well, you are under no obligation to pay. Many people do, because they feel a mixture of intimidation and pity. But just walk away. The CDs are worthless anyway, and you don't need to spend one cent on them.

4. The White Van Speaker Scam

Unbelievably, this one still gets people. It's the age-old problem of greed. People think they're getting an unbelievable bargain, and that's what the scammers rely upon.

Two or three guys, often dressed in uniforms or retail store shirts, will park the van in a grocery store parking lot, a fairly busy high street, or a gas station. Then, they look for their "mark." Usually, people who look they have some money, or foreigners to the state. They will approach that person and claim they work for a high-end audio retailer. For some reason, be it a glitch in the ordering system, or a mistake at the warehouse, they have an extra set of killer speakers. They can't go back to the warehouse with them, not when they can sell them quick and make a bit of extra cash. They get some money, you get an amazing deal on the speakers, everyone's a winner. You look up the brand of speaker on your smart phone, just to check, and see they're worth $4,000! The $500 they're asking is a steal. But, you're the one being robbed. The speakers are cheap junk, with inferior parts and shoddy cabinets. They're worth $50 at best. The website where you checked the price is one put up by the scammers, and it's very legit-looking. So, heed this advice. If anyone in a white van tells you they have a great deal for you, walk away. Quickly.

5. Before and After Photos Shilling Miracle Weight Loss Products

Now, I preface this by saying some may be legitimate. But even saying that, the fine print will often say "combined with a balanced diet and regular exercise, results may vary." In other words, the miracle cure is really you working your butt off and eating right — the pill or drink is incidental. However, the before and after photos they use to sell the pill or cure can be done in just a day. That's right, one day. Not months. You start with a before picture, and use someone who is fit. They work out at the gym, pump themselves up, even rub on some fake tan. After that, they gorge themselves on food and drinks that contain a massive amount of salt. The fake tan comes off. They push their belly out, look depressed, and voila, the difference looks like a 20-30 lb drop in weight. It's all bogus. But don't take my word for it, here's a video of someone showing you just how it's done.

6. Kevin Trudeau Products and Services

If you've ever stayed up late at night, or watch daytime TV, you will have seen Kevin Trudeau at some point. He claims to have knowledge of secret cures, weight loss solutions, easy ways to get out of debt, and easy ways to make money. But it's all a smokescreen to get you to part with your money.

Kevin Trudeau is a convicted fraudster. In 1990, he posed as a doctor and deposited $80,000 in false checks. He pleaded guilty to larceny. That same year, he charged over $120,000 to credit cards and stole social security numbers, a crime that put him in federal prison for two years. As you can see, his background is not one of trust. His "They Don't Want You To Know About" series has been revealed to be information that is widely available, coupled with speculation and conjecture. It's also dangerous, with claims like "AIDS is a hoax" and "chemotherapy is more dangerous than cancer." Most, if not all, of the information contained in these books can be found using Google and a few minutes of your time.

More recently, Trudeau has been in and out of court for deceptive claims on weight loss products. And now, he owes a $37.6 million fine over misleading ads. The bottom line is this — every legitimate doctor, financial expert, and pharmacist has labeled him as a fraud, a con man, or an outright criminal. You can read more about his court cases, and his history with the FTC, right here. But in the opinion of this writer, give this man a very wide berth.

7. Diamonds

Diamonds are not a girl's best friend. They only really benefit the diamond industry. Since 1888, a tightly controlled cartel (you know it as DeBeers) was formed to keep the price of diamonds artificially inflated. They do this by controlling the production of diamonds, which are nowhere near as rare as they would have you believe. And yet, the power of advertising would have us all believe that a beautiful diamond engagement ring costing many thousands of dollars is the only way to commit to your lady. It's nonsense.

It all stems from a 1938 ad campaign masterminded by Lauck & N.W. Ayer, in collaboration with Harry Oppenheimer. Diamond sales were dropping; something had to be done. The diamond ring "promise" was born, and has since become tradition. It was also followed by the eternity ring, a way of making small, almost worthless, diamonds seems valuable. There is no rational reason for a costly diamond, when we have so many artificial diamonds looking just like the real thing at a fraction of the price.

Some will say "ah yes, but the ring can be sold later, it's an investment." Really? Try and sell one. You will be lucky, very lucky, to get half of what you paid for it. Unlike gold, in which price is determined by weight and market, diamond price is determined by beauty. It's subjective. Most jewelers will not even buy back diamond rings, for the simple reason that they will be forced to tell you how much of a bath you took on it. That would be very bad for business. Do yourself a favor, forget real diamonds. They may last forever, but they're a scam that should disappear.

8. Get Your Oil Changed Every 3,000 Miles

Lies! This is a myth pushed by motor oil companies and car manufactures to sell more oil and rake in cash from additional service appointments. In the past, it was necessary. But advances in car construction, oil chemistry, and engine technology mean you can go up to 10,000 miles between changes.

It's true that oil change frequency does depend on the conditions you drive in, but for most of us, that means regular dry roads with little stopping and starting. A great website called Check Your Number shows you just how far your car can go, in regular driving conditions, before it needs an oil change. For instance, my Hyundai Sonata dealership recommends a 3,500 mile oil change. The actual distance it can go between changes is roughly 7,500 miles. That's more than double! What's more, you may see special deals on $15 oil changes. Beware. The garage is taking a loss on that oil change — parts alone cost more. What they want is to get your car in the shop to do an inspection, where they will find problems and make a tidy profit on often unnecessary repairs.

9. The "Help, I Need Gas" Scam

Sooner or later, you will be approached by someone in a parking lot, or maybe walking near a gas station, who looks desperate. They will approach you and tell you a sob story about how they ran out of gas, have no money or credit cards on them, and need a little money to fill up their tank. They will ask for your address, so that they can mail you back the money, and a little extra for your trouble. Some will even leave their car keys with you as security (which makes no sense but somehow seems like an act or trust). Of course, in 99% of these cases, there is no car and no trouble. They are simply preying on the good Samaritan in you, hoping you will be gullible enough to hand over some money. The scammers are even bringing their children along, because no one with a kid would be out scamming people, right? Well, don't fall for it. Unless you know the person, it's almost certainly a scam.

10. The Craigslist Dating Scam

This one preys on people, primarily men, searching the personal ads on Craigslist for a love interest. They will find so many ads from women who look like they wouldn't have any trouble finding a date. Young, attractive, in great shape, and wanting to be with someone right now. So the guy replies, and will often get an email back, and a picture, asking to know more about him. Then, she'll ask him to sign up to a website, so he can prove he's not some stalker or weirdo. He'll reply, oblivious to the fact that this is not the girl in the picture. It's probably not even a girl at all, but someone who is employed, on commission, to get guys to sign up for age verification websites, or other safety sites.

After signing up and paying his monthly, or annual fee, he'll get back in touch with the girl and she will be remarkably quiet. There are many variations on this, but if you're a guy looking for a date, watch out for emails that seem computer generated (such as, sandysmith456xty@yahoo.com) and never sign up for a website someone has sent you. The best advice — use a legitimate online dating service, and always talk on the phone, or Skype, first. If they're trolling for signups, they won't give you a number.

Have you spotted any new scams, or variations on any of these scams, recently? Please share them in comments!

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Guest's picture

It is a shame that so many scams exist these days that I feel like I am losing a lot of trust in society as a whole. I've heard of the friendly girl scam and I have seen the "out of gas" scam. I have also seen plenty of people begging for money with their children. But as far as the white van goes, why would anybody even acknowledge somebody trying to sell them something from a white van? Vans already have the stigma of rape and if anybody has ever seen a crime show, they should be fully aware of how sketchy vans can be.

Guest's picture
Kay Dee

Thanks for the oil change website, but it only lists cars from 2000 on. Is there a site that has this info for older cars? Thanks!

Guest's picture

With the CD "personalization" scam, as soon as they write anything, yell out,
"You spelled my name wrong!" That worked for me in Jamaica with a vendor who wrote my name on a bracelet.
I did have someone approach me at a gas station for gas money and I told him to pull up at the next pump and I would put $20 in my car and $10 in his. When the car never materialized, I figured he was saving up for a car.

Guest's picture
Liz Ocavello

On holiday in big cities, on busy touristy points, we are often approached to sign a petition for some good cause like " against animal cruelty" . It feels bad to ignore them, after all, who could be against such a cause? So you sign and show them where you keep your stuff so their friends can pick your pockets later on. Beware - and donate safely to a trusted cause when you get home.