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Consumer Fraud Task Force Warns Consumers About Scams Using Money Transfer Services

The Consumer Fraud Task Force warns consumers to avoid being scammed by never sending money by wire transfer services when contacted by a stranger on the phone, by email.

Approximately a decade ago, the Better Business Bureau and other groups joined together to tackle 'work-at-home' scams that were being promoted with signs posted at intersections throughout the St. Louis area.

The successful cooperation among the groups led to the formation of the Consumer Fraud Task Force, a group that includes representatives from BBBs in Missouri and Illinois, state and federal officials such as the FBI and Federal Trade Commission as well as legal services organizations in the two states.

The task force meets quarterly and decides on a topic of concern that they want to inform consumers about. This time, it's about a variety of scams with one thing in common: They all ask consumers to send them money by wire transfer services such as Western Union, MoneyGram or Green Dot MoneyPaks. 

The use of money transfer services is a big red flag with many scams. Some want consumers to send money for processing fees like loans. Other scammers send victims an authentic-looking check and ask the victim to wire some of the money back. Whenever that happens, consumers should stop all contact with the scammer and NEVER, EVER send money to strangers who contact you by phone, mail or email.

Here's today's task force release:

St. Louis, Mo., Aug. 2, 2012 -- Thieves continue to use the Internet, mail system and phone service to steal millions from unsuspecting victims across the St. Louis region and the nation.

The Consumer Fraud Task Force urges consumers to recognize the most common tactics used by crooks to scam money. Most of the thieves masquerade as legitimate businesses and ask consumers to send money via such hard-to-trace methods as Western Union, MoneyGram or Green Dot MoneyPaks. Other times, a consumer may be asked to mail money directly to a scammer in another country or to an associate within the United States.

“The message should be loud and clear: Never, ever send money to somebody you don’t know or somebody you recently met online, regardless of the reason they give you,” the Task Force warns. “And never give your bank account information or a Green Dot MoneyPak access number to anyone unless you are absolutely sure you know exactly who you are dealing with and it’s for a legitimate transaction.”

Many of the most notorious scams have operated for years. Among the most common:

  • Advance Fee Loan Scam.  Typically, this scheme targets a consumer with poor credit who either applies online for a loan or receives a phone call offering a loan. The scam company may have a professional-looking website and a contract that looks legitimate. It may even use the name or address of a real company. But after the consumer sends an advance fee (usually for “insurance” or a “processing” fee), no loan is forthcoming. The scam company usually vanishes within a few days or weeks and then re-starts under a new name. Dozens of consumers recently lost between $500
    and several thousand dollars each to advance fee loan thieves claiming to have offices in the St. Louis area.
  • Sweepstakes Scam. In this scheme, the thief mails an official-looking, but phony, announcement proclaiming that the recipient has won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter says the money or prizes will be delivered as soon as the winner pays taxes or other fees – again, often through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak. Typical is a recent mailing to a St. Charles man informing him that he had just won $450,000 in the “US Mega” sweepstakes. The notice included what appeared to be a legitimate check for $4,600 that the letter said would help him pay taxes of $3,800 on the winnings. The scammer is counting on the recipient to deposit the fake check into his or her bank account and then send out the $3,800 in real money. Too often, the “winner” discovers too late that he or she has been duped and there is no sweepstakes. 
  • Secret Shopping or Work at Home Scam. In this scam, a business that appears legitimate offers a job seeker a chance to earn money as a secret shopper, shopping various stores and services and reporting the findings back to the company. In most cases, the company mails a legitimate looking check, instructing the recipient to keep a portion of the money and use the rest to “shop” businesses such as Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart. Almost always, instructions also call for the recipient to use most of the cash to “shop” MoneyGram or Western Union by sending a large portion of the check through one of those businesses to an out-of-town recipient. A man from O’Fallon, Mo., recently alerted the BBB to a secret shopping scam that had stolen the name of a legitimate business in Lancaster, N.Y.
  • Craigslist Scam. Although these can take several forms, the most common involves a scammer who responds to a consumer’s offer on Craigslist to sell an item or service. The thief typically sends payment in the form of a phony check, claiming that a family member or associate accidentally has overpaid and then requests a partial refund by MoneyGram or Western Union. It is only after sending the refund that the consumer realizes he or she has been scammed.
  • Romance Scam. Avoid sending money in any form to someone you have spoken with only online. If an email “friend” asks you for money – for any reason – it is probably a scam.  

The Task Force, which marks its 10th anniversary in October, is a coalition of local, state and federal government agencies and nonprofit business and consumer groups in Missouri and Illinois that work together to protect consumer and donor rights and guard against fraud. Previous Task Force releases have focused on payday loans, tax scams, timeshare resellers, home remodelers, work-at-home scams, online auctions, credit repair scams, debt management advice, foreclosure scams, extended auto service contracts, sweetheart scams and fire and police
organizations.

To obtain information, or to report a scam, you may contact members of the Task Force:

Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois –  (314) 645-3300; www.bbb.org.

Federal Trade Commission – (877) FTC-HELP (382-4357); www.ftc.gov.

Illinois Attorney General – (800) 243-0618; www.illinoisattorneygeneral.gov.

Missouri Attorney General – (800) 392-8222; www.ago.mo.gov.

U.S. Attorney, Eastern District of Missouri – (314) 539-2200; www.usdoj.gov/usao/moe.

U.S. Postal Inspection Service – (877) 876-2455; postalinspectors.uspis.gov.

U.S. Secret Service – (314) 539-2238; www.secretservice.gov.

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This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Jeanette Hayworth September 03, 2012 at 04:30 AM
One has to be alert and knowledgeable about the different scams online so as not to fall into a scam himself. Scammers are becoming more and more intelligent, often quoting another legal or established business to make their frauds more trustworthy.
CHJ January 31, 2013 at 05:25 PM
Obvious. Is there a subversive purpose to this response...such as optimizing?

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