Keep Your Cash: Five Scams to Avoid

As you know, every few weeks I answer questions from you, my readers. This week's crop of questions is particularly insightful and helpful to others. Thanks for helping me tap into the consumer pulse -- and keep them coming.

-- EL

Question: I have been talking to this guy for several months. We've talked on the phone, sent e-mails back and forth, IM all the time. He says he is in love with me and wants us to get married. I, unfortunately, have fallen deeply in love with him. He supposedly lives in IL and went to the UK for business in early September.

His daughter got sick and needed an operation which he needed to pay for in advance. He also said he was hit by a car while riding a bike and broke his leg. He is still there and asked me to send him some money for an invoice and his and his daughter's plane tickets. I sent it to him by Money Gram. He said he got robbed as soon as he left the place.

I am sure now that I got scammed because he keeps asking me for more money, which I don't have (He has gotten all of what I have and then some.) My question to you is, is there a place I can go to check his name to see if he is one of the scammers from Nigeria or Ghana, etc.?

-- P, Front Royal, Va.

Click Here to Ask Elisabeth Your Consumer Questions About This Topic or Any Other Consumer Issue

Answer: Yes, I'm sorry to say you were scammed. And the scam stings even more since there is a personal element to it. This is often called the "sweetheart scam" and it has been around for years but went global with the advent of the Internet.

You won't be able to track the con man using his name, because it was probably a fake. For that matter, if he sent you a photo, it was probably a picture of somebody else. Often, these crooks just copy photos -- mainly of very attractive models -- off of the Internet. So you can't check his validity, but you can report his crime. Contact the United States Secret Service, the agency that investigates financial crimes.

Question: Someone -- from the language use, probably Nigerian -- is contacting folks through Craigslist, ostensibly on our behalf. His scam is to get people to pay for software that they will need for work-at-home billing for our company. Fortunately, most folks have been calling to find out if it is real or not. You might want to warn about offers to work from home for a particular company. Folks should make sure it is a real company and speak to the employment department at that company by looking up the phone number and placing the call themselves.

-- JJ, Fairport, N.Y.

Answer: Thanks for the heads up. You're right, scam artists often take steps to make their ploys seem more legitimate, in this case by naming a real company in their come-ons.

Question: There is a company doing business on the Internet doing the classic "bait and switch." They advertise products (cameras, etc.) at very cheap prices. When you order some, you either get a message to call to confirm the order or they call you.

When you talk to the salesperson, you get a high-pressure, misleading pitch for grossly overpriced products they say you need to make your purchase work properly. If you do not bite, the product is suddenly "out of stock" and your purchase canceled. The company has or is using several names. A check on Google revealed hundreds of accounts of the same scam I had last week.

-- NT, Lebanon, Tenn.

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