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We book rooms in people's houses rather than stay in hotels, and we get rides from strange drivers in their personal vehicles instead of grabbing a cab, so of course we buy stuff online, too. With new technology making it possible, every year we grow more accustomed to doing deals a little differently.
But the ease with which we now exchange with strangers also makes us more susceptible to scams. Enter the Better Business Bureau's Scam Tracker. The online tool allows people to report suspected illegal schemes or frauds, and warn others what to watch out for when they've been scammed.
A Cautionary Tale
Here's an example reported by the Yankton Daily Press and Dakotan, a South Dakota news paper reporting on a scam that stemmed from a Nebraska Craigslist posting. A woman in Nebraska saw a 2010 Ford pickup advertised for $8000 online and contacted the seller by email.
The seller responded that the vehicle was in Omaha, that she had five days to test it before she paid for it, and that she had an option to return it at the seller's expense if she was unsatisfied with the car. The sale would go through eBay, and the woman provided the necessary information via the site.
Immediately she got a message from what looked like eBay with information regarding the purchase. She was soon instructed to send a $2,800 deposit to someone in Mississippi. The woman sent the deposit through a Money Gram wire transfer done at a Walmart, where an employee did question her about the transaction. She showed the Walmart worker her convincing looking eBay receipts and the money was wired via MoneyGram.
The next day, this woman received a request for another $2,750 to cover insurance for the pickup. At this point, she became suspicious. She didn't send the money and she did report the scam to eBay, MoneyGram, Craigslist and on BBB's scam tracker.
The story was not news to the BBB. "This is a fairly common scam that we've been warning folks about for years," BBB CEO Jim Hegarty said. "The scammers are very good at social engineering. They create correspondence that appears as if it's coming from legitimate sources, and are masters of illusion. It's easier than most people imagine to be drawn into one of these traps."
But Hegarty says that the more common the scheme, the more likely it will be listed on the scam tracker. What that means is that you can check out the scam tracker before you make any deals with strangers, and be alerted to illegality in advance. Alternatively, if you have been scammed, make sure to report it, warning others so that they don't fall prey.
Talk to a Lawyer
If you have fallen victim to an illegal scheme and want advice on what you can do about it, consult with counsel. Many lawyers consult for free or a minimal fee and will be happy to discuss your situation.