It doesn't seem to matter how educated you are or what your station is in life – anyone can be scammed.
At least that seems to be the lesson learned from what went down in the Iowa Supreme Court last month. According to the Business Record, a publication serving Des Moines and central Iowa, a client came to attorney Robert Allan Wright, Jr., in 2011 with a letter claiming he was due to receive an $18.8 million inheritance from a deceased relative in Nigeria. All the client had to do was pay $177,660 in inheritance taxes in Nigeria.
The client, Floyd Lee Madison, told Wright he would pay a $1.8 million fee for his help. Wright began asking his clients for loans to pay the inheritance taxes and promised them that they would recoup their investments. As one can imagine, things didn't go well. Despite raising more than $200,000 for the so-called estate in Nigeria, Madison never received his inheritance and Wright never received his fee. Wright went afoul of the law for, among other things, not telling his clients that before loaning him money, they should seek independent counsel. The Iowa Supreme Court suspended Wright's license for a year.
As crazy of a con as it sounds on the surface, every consumer is susceptible to what the next day might seem like an outlandish scam. In part, the problem for every scam victim is that while the criminal's ultimate goal of wanting your money will always stay true, the way they go about getting it continues to evolve.
"It's the same old thing, but it's done in a different way," says David Sun, CEO of SunBlock Systems, a Reston, Va.-based information technology company that specializes in computer forensics, among other things. "Crooks used to come and knock on your door and say, 'Hey, buy this,' and then with the advent of the telephone, you had crooks posing as telemarketers, and then with email, it was spam, and cons are always going to keep going and changing. Because just as the public perception catches up with what's happening, the con men come up with the next approach."
And what's the next approach? Nobody knows, but here are some of the more recent scams making the rounds.
The caller ID spoofing scam. Caller ID was supposed to help callers identify who was on the other end of the telephone line, but some criminals are threatening to destroy the technology's usefulness with a technique known as caller ID spoofing.
"A scammer purchases access to a service that allows the user to modify the caller ID that is displayed to people they call," explains Jack Vonder Heide, president of Technology Briefing Centers, a research and education organization in Oak Brook, Ill., that serves the banking and financial services sectors. "The scammer calls a victim and has the name and number of a local bank displayed on the caller ID on the victim's home phone. The caller then pretends to be a representative of the bank and tells the victim that there has been possible fraud activity on their account and they need to verify some information."
You can figure out what happens next. Even though the memo has surely gotten out that you shouldn't give personal information to a stranger over the telephone, if your caller ID shows that this is someone from your bank, you might understandably figure that this has to be one of those exceptions.
Except it isn't.
[See: 9 Ways to Keep Your Phone Safe.]
The work-for-us-for-free scam. In this scam, no one agrees to work for free; they just think they're working for a paycheck when their employer has no intention of giving them anything.
Sara Sutton Fell, CEO and founder of flexjobs.com, which specializes in serving telecommuters, says one of her clients came to her after working for someone she met on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn is a respected, career-oriented site, but just as with Facebook and other social media sites, bad guys can sign up to be members, too. Fell says this particular job seeker worked for a small company supposedly based in Florida, making sales calls for them for three weeks. She might have been duped into working longer, but she received a phone call, letting her know that her services wouldn't be needed any longer but a paycheck would be forthcoming. It never came.