It happened to Shirley Kroot on a recent visit to Paris: the classic summer vacation scam.
“I was walking along the Seine one afternoon and a woman stopped in front of me,” remembers Kroot, a retired real estate appraiser from Tucson, Ariz. “I could have sworn that she picked up a ring right in front of me and handed it to me, asking for money for food.”
Kroot examined the ring, which was stamped with an “18K” sign. A fair trade, she thought.
“I gave her all the change I had, but she said it was not enough. All I had was a 10-euro note so I gave it to her,” she says.
But on the way back to her apartment, she stopped at a jewelry store to ask how much the ring was worth.
“Rien,” said the jeweler. “Nothing.”
How did she know? The shopkeeper opened a drawer filled with other “18K” rings.
Summertime is scam time, so this is the time to brush up on your scam-ology. From moving scams to travel schemes, there’s no shortage of awful things waiting to befall you. And, as a bonus, I’ll tell you about the time I was almost scammed with a summer trick.
But first things first. What’s out there this summer?
Home improvement scams
“There are all sorts of variations to this but one common one is to say that they are doing work for a neighbor and they figured they’d knock on the door and see if you needed anything,” says Jef Henninger, a Tinton Falls, N.J., consumer attorney. “Since your neighbor trusts them, you should too, right?” Not so fast, he advises. First, you should actually speak to your neighbors to make sure that they used this person and that they did good work. Anyone can show up to your house with some tools and request money. And get everything in writing. Don’t fall for the old “I left the paper in my other truck, I’ll be back later.” Later may never happen.
Moving day scams
Last Memorial Day, the BBB sounded the alarm about moving day scams. You know, where a moving company quotes a too-good-to-be true rate and then holds your items hostage at the end. Noting that half of all moves occur between Memorial Day and Labor Day, the BBB advised customers to “do their homework,” noting that it had recorded 460 moving day complaints in the previous 12 months. Here’s your first assignment: Make sure the movers are licensed. You can do that on this site.
Where to even begin? Since one of my specialties is travel, I have no idea. It’s true, travel scams mushroom during the summer, since that’s when everyone tries to take a vacation. Maybe a good place is the proliferation of travel clubs, which offer discounts in exchange for a pricey membership fee. I have a long list of complaints here on my consumer advocacy website. Travel clubs are easy to avoid. Simply put, never purchase a club membership. After writing hundreds of stories on the topic, I’m convinced that there’s no such thing as a legitimate travel club. Another piece of advice: If it looks too good to be true, it probably is. Avoid. (Here’s how to fix your own consumer problem.)
Summer job scams
Job scams are a year-round problem, but they rear their ugly head more often during the summer, when out-of-school kids look for employment. The Federal Trade Commission has done some good work on unearthing and identifying job scams. Scammers advertise jobs where legitimate employers do — online, in newspapers, and even on TV and radio. Here’s how to tell whether a job lead may be a scam: If you you need to pay to get the job, have to fork over a credit card, or it’s a “previously undisclosed” federal job, it’s a scam. Better yet, remember this — a legitimate job pays you, not the other way around. (Related: Don’t send that email until you’ve read this. Seriously, don’t.)
There’s no shortage of travel scams that target the elderly, including the well-known Grandparent Scam. That’s where someone posing as your grandson calls, claims to be in jail, and begs for money. Hey grandparents, just say “no.” If you suspect it’s really your grandson or granddaughter, call another family member to verify that the request is genuine. And beware of a caller who insists on secrecy — that can be a bad sign.
Street scams that prey on you
Practice your “no thank yous” as you explore your town or go on vacation. People there will be looking to scam you. If you think experts don’t get scammed like this, think again. In Kenya recently, I was accosted by a man who wanted to know if I could give him a dollar bill, since coins couldn’t be exchanged. But he only had three quarters. I said no and then watched a veteran travel expert fall for the scam. It can happen to anyone.
So this summer, be on the lookout for new and old scams. And remember, the only reason they keep coming back is that people keep falling for them. Don’t become a statistic.