You’ve been warned! Don’t fall for these scams this summer

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.”

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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.

Vacation scams
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.

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.

Grandparent scams
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.

15 thoughts on “You’ve been warned! Don’t fall for these scams this summer

  1. If someone approaches you in a foreign country, the likelihood is that it’s not for your benefit ! Anymore than it would be back home !

  2. A few years back I got hit up for 20 euros from a guy in a Roman gladiator costume not far from the Vatican in front of a castle. I took a few photos and then when we went to walk away, he told me I had to pay and was pretty insistent that I give him 20 euros. I did end up paying because he wouldn’t leave me alone but have been called a schmuck to anyone I’ve ever shared this story with. A more familiar scenario is to offer to take some pictures of your group and then won’t give back your camera. Mine is a rather pricey Nikon with a brand new lens that I bought a few weeks ago for our return to Rome. I also indulged in shoulder strap that makes it a lot harder to slit the straps. Whenever I want to take pictures while traveling, I make sure my husband or someone else with me is watching my back because I tend to get lost in the process.

    On the home improvement front, a lawn care salesman told my next door neighbor that my husband and I had signed on with his company, which was not true. I called and spoke to a supervisor and reported him. The expression trust bbut verify seems to be he only way to live anymore.

    1. As far as the Gladiator costume guy, yes, I do believe those people do it for money. 20 euros is a bit stiff for posing for a picture, but it is worth something. Years ago, I took a picture of my wife with someone dressed up as Captain Jack Sparrow. The guy had done a really good job on the costume and makeup. Regrettably, I think I underpaid him. I don’t remember if it was due to not having the right change or not, but it was definitely worth a few dollars more than I gave him. He was gracious nonetheless but I do feel bad about it. The Gladiator should have been happy with 5 or 10 Euros…

      1. I actually did offer him some money (2-5 euros) because it was a a quick picture that he seemed quite bored with the whole process. A travel agent helping with the conference my husband was attending in Rome said we should not have been so aggressive in his pursuit of money and also said we should have reported him to the police. She was the one who told me about them walking off with your camera or phone if you didn’t give them money. I almost always have money in my pocket for the street musicians because I feel they are actually performing (many major artists survived on those street corner “jobs” to survive)and are not harassing tourists.

        My daughter was upset on this recent trip to Rome because I bought a scarf from a street vendor. He wanted 20 euros (magic number in Rome?) and I asked how late they would be there so I could think about it. Suddenly the price was 5 euros and then I bought it because I felt that was a fair price.

        1. I don’t think those qualify as scams. The costumed people who pose with tourists are trying to make a buck by offering a service, of a sort. The compensation is up to you. And bargaining with a street vendor? It’s expected!

    2. The Gladitor costume scammer is also a scam you would see in US cities like NYC where costumed enterainers are common. The legit ones will allow pictures without bothering people for tip. The scammers will pester for tip like “Sparta” did in the above sample. NYC has their share of street entertainers, just beware the ones that “expect” tips. In those case, call the police.

  3. We had lots of people approach us in Paris with the ring trick. Fortunately, we had read about that in advance in places like this one and knew to steer clear. Note that asking for money is only one possible outcome. The more common outcome is that they are trying to distract you while they pickpocket you.

    I will point out that on that trip we did four days in Paris followed by four days in Vienna. What a world of difference Vienna was. We saw no scam artists at all and the city was much cleaner and prettier than Paris.

  4. do wish you clarify between industry travel clubs & others. the best Australian travel club is only AUD$44/year(US$33) & has some great deals(to fill beds/airline seats/cruise cabins), but you must be somehow connected to the travel industry. Check out http://www.travelclub.com.au

  5. The grandparent scam makes my blood boil. It happened to my frail elderly mother who was so upset, she had to be taken to the doctor as her blood pressure spiked to dangerous levels. If i could have gotten my hands on them……

    It’s one thing to lose a few dollars, but when they are messing with people’s lives, it’s a cruel criminal at work.

    1. Yes, it’s arguably the worst of the scams. Grandma thinks she’s helping her grandchild who’s in trouble. Why would she suspect anything? I hope if anyone ever tries it with me, I’ll have the presence of mind to ask a question that only he or she would know the answer to–like his/her mother’s middle name.

  6. Mostly these scams work because of greed that gets in the way of common sense. An 18k gold ring for 10 euros? Really? A mover whose “estimate” is way lower than anyone else’s? Hmmm! I won the lottery and all I have to do is prepay the taxes? Wow! As long as people believe they can get something for nothing, the scammers will be successful.

  7. Someone tried the “18K” scam on me when I was jogging along the Siene a couple of years back. Person spoke pretty good English (my French is terrible). When I suggested that we find a police officer so she could turn in the ring she had “found,” she immediately lost interest.

  8. We were following a lady in Paris when she bent over to pick something up. She turned to us, looked us over, shrugged, and went on her way. I didn’t think we looked THAT poor!
    Another Paris scam is a pair of young people who are collecting signatures on a petition for “world peace”. One of them hands you a clip board and while both of your hands are occupied, the other one picks your pocket.

  9. When you stop at a U.S. highway rest stop, beware the person who comes to your car window with a sob story, in my case, something about his two teenagers stuck somewhere and he needed the money for something or other. I knew I was being scammed, but I gave him money. He thanked me and said he would say a prayer for me in church. Then he got in his car and went on his way. I was only out a few dollars, but glad he was pleasant and left.

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