Scam Artists Will Renew Your Faith in Human Ingenuity

Floods, fires, hurricanes, wars - they're all profit opportunities for scam artists.

James R. Hood
James R. Hood

Anyone who remains dubious about evolution needs to pay heed to scam artists and their amazing ability to adapt and change their stripes at a moment's notice.

In a world beset by hurricanes, floods, fires, pandemics and winding-down wars, there is no shortage of human misery and desperate need – conditions that call forth the ever-alert criminals who give vultures a bad name.

Vultures are often vilified but in reality, they serve an important function. They clean up the remains of creatures that have fallen victim to accident or predation. Con artists, though, are the opposite – they seek out misfortune and make it worse, turning others' tragedies into profit-making opportunities for themselves.

The wave of disasters and tragedies of the past few months provide plenty of examples, as quick review of recent scam alerts shows.

Supreme Court Comes to Landlords’ Rescue, Ends Eviction Moratorium
Landlords losing millions in rent, Supreme Court ends eviction moratorium

Eviction scams target renters in trouble

Now that the U.S. Supreme Court has opened the door to renewed evictions of renters, scams targeting those about to be thrown into the street have picked up steam.

The Better Business Bureau (BBB) describes a typical situation: A renter had been in a desperate financial situation and had been looking for loans and being denied left and right. The victim received a call from a loan provider, saying their loan application had finally been accepted.

“There was just one catch,” said the BBB's Dennis Horton. “Before the company could release the money, the borrower had to increase their credit score. The company said they had a way to help.”

The scammer claimed they had put $1,000 into the consumer's bank account to make it look like they had more cash on hand than they actually did. Then the consumer was asked to "return" the $1,000. Of course, the money had never actually been deposited so the consumer, already in big trouble, lost their $1,000.

The lesson: Never trust anyone who calls or emails out of the blue, be wary of anything that requires an upfront payment or "deposit" and be sure you know who you're talking to. Just because someone says they're from the government doesn't mean they are.

There are federal, state, local and private rental assistance programs throughout the United States. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau has a state-by-state listing.

Loretta Lynn’s ranch warns of scams following flooding
The post said the scammers are soliciting donations to the ranch.

Loretta Lynn doesn't need your money

Nashville and surrounding areas of Tennessee have suffered through multiple bouts of flooding and storm damage, leading to all the usual post-disaster scams plus at least one new one.

Consumers have reported getting appeals to donate to country singer Loretta Lynn's ranch and campground. The appeals say that Ms. Lynn's organization is raising money that it will distribute to storm victims.

But is that really true? No, it's not. The staff at the ranch have been posting on Facebook and elsewhere that they are not soliciting money and while they may be helping flood victims, they're not seeking public contributions.

"It’s heartbreaking to see scammers steal from real victims and the giving souls trying to help them,” the staffers said.

Military Warns Social Media Users of Scammers Pretending to Be US Commander in Afghanistan
U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has reported almost 900 fake accounts posing as Gen. Scott Miller on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

The military isn't asking for gift cards

Want to help the military effort in Afghanistan? It's a little late for that, of course, but there are plenty of Afghan evacuees now in the United States who will need help in the months ahead.

But one thing no one needs to do at the moment is respond to the military's plea for gift cards. That's because there was no such plea.

Scammers posing as the top U.S. commander in Afghanistan have been using more than 900 social media accounts pleading for Americans to send gift cards and cell phones to service members.

U.S. Forces-Afghanistan has reported almost 900 fake accounts posing as Gen. Scott Miller on sites like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram this year alone, the command said Wednesday.

The appeals are false. And besides that, Gen. Miller's office says he doesn't use social media.

"Gen. Miller does NOT use public accounts on social media. Scammers are using his likeness & photos," USFOR-A spokesman Col. Sonny Leggett said.

Miller has not posted a single tweet since taking command in 2018, and his only retweet was the warning of fake profiles.

Afghan refugees do need help

One thing's not a scam – there are thousands of Afghan refugees being brought to the United States. Most are going to Virginia for initial processing and from there, they will be dispersed to local communities around the country.

Commonwealth Catholic Charities is providing resettlement services and childcare in Virginia.

Lutheran Immigration and Rescue Services is seeking volunteers. You can sign up on their website.

The Red Cross, as it does in every emergency, is providing assistance wherever it is needed.

Victims of Hurricane Ida will also be desperate for assistance once the storm moves through. Again, the Red Cross is a good place to start. It will be on the ground before the clouds clear, with food, blankets and whatever else is needed.

There is, of course, a common thread that runs through all scams, and in one sense all scams are basically the same. They all rely on consumers' credulity. Distrust of authority runs high these days but that doesn't mean that established organizations aren't still the best place to put your trust, your money and your efforts when times get rough.

Scams

James R. Hood

Jim is a publishing entrepreneur and journalist. He founded ConsumerAffairs in 1998 and earlier was the founder of Zapnews, after holding executive posts at the Associated Press.