The number of scams listed by the FBI is mind-spinning: telemarketing fraud, the Nigerian letter, advance-fee schemes, health care and health-insurance bonds, letter of credit, Ponzi schemes, pyramid schemes, Internet fraud, credit-card fraud, funeral and cemetery schemes, reverse mortgages -- even tax-refund scams.
The Palo Alto Police Department has compiled a list of common scams. The following is a sampling:
Auto and home-repair scams: The victim is contacted at home or in the parking lot of a retail store and is offered inexpensive repairs, such as vehicle dent, roofing and driveway repair. The victim is asked to pay upfront. Repairs never occur or are sub-standard. The perpetrator sometimes "discovers" additional repairs and charges exorbitant rates for often fictitious repairs.
Favorite grandson (grandparents) scam: The victim is contacted by email or phone by someone claiming to be his or her grandson or granddaughter. The caller claims to have been arrested, robbed or involved in a traffic accident overseas. The "grandchild" says he or she is in need of money for vehicle repairs, return travel, bail or attorney fees. In a variation of the scam, the caller purports to be an attorney calling on behalf of an incarcerated family member.
Rental scams: The victim responds to an online advertisement offering a home or apartment rental, or a vacation timeshare. The rent is far below market value. The victim is asked to remit the rent, deposit, etc., by wire transfer in advance of move-in. When the victim has sent the money, the perpetrator ceases all communication. Nearly always, the rental property is fictitious. In a variation, some scammers have accepted rent or purchase down payments for distressed, abandoned or foreclosed properties that they do not have the right to rent or sell.
Bank examiner scams: The victim is contacted by phone by someone purporting to be a police investigator or bank official. The victim is asked to help with an internal bank investigation intended to expose a crooked teller, who is defrauding customers. The victim is asked to go to the bank to make a large cash withdrawal at a specific time. After making the withdrawal and exiting the bank, the victim is met by the "investigator," who thanks the victim, takes the withdrawn currency and promises to credit the victim's account. Telemarketer scams that seek personal information to verify bank or credit-card information are also prevalent.
Work-from-home scams: The victim is contacted by email and is offered a job, which is often described as "accounts receivable," "Accounting," or "Mystery shopper." The victim is told his or her job will entail receiving checks from "customers" and depositing the checks in his or her personal bank account. The victim is told to retain a portion of each check as compensation and to remit the balance, by wire transfer, to the "employer." The checks deposited by the victim are later found to be stolen, forged or counterfeit. The victim's account is debited by the bank for the amount. This typically occurs after the "employer" has received the wire transfer. These scams also sometimes occur when the victim responds to online job postings.
The Palo Alto Police Department's complete list of scams is posted at www.cityofpaloalto.org/depts/pol/
Additional resources on fraud and financial crimes include: 2011 AARP Foundation National Fraud Victim Study; AARP tips on how to recognize, prevent fraud; and FBI information on scams and how to detect them.