Protect yourself from these tricks with Scam Central

Protect yourself from these tricks with Scam Central
Eyewitness News constantly receives calls about possible scams. The methods vary, but the end game is always the same -- to steal money from unsuspecting victims.

Scam Central is designed to be your one-stop shop for scam information. Below, you'll find general tips on how to avoid scams, along with detailed descriptions of some of the most common scams around.

Check back often as Eyewitness News posts new warnings about emerging scams.

Top tips to avoid being scammed

1. Be wary of overseas e-mails. Many scams are based out of these areas.
2. Be cautious of checks sent to you, especially if the person sending the check wants you to send part of the money back.
3. Be careful sending money through Western Union. Although Western Union is a legitimate business, many scam artists use it to receive funds, because once the money is sent, it is almost impossible to get it back.

Popular scams

Craigslist scams

Scam No. 1: Property for rent

People will list an apartment or house for rent on Craigslist.org that is already owned or occupied by someone else. The person listing the property asks you to send money for a deposit by way of Western Union, promising to send the keys to the property in return. One Eyewitness News viewer experienced this solicitation and drove by the property to find tenants inside. Craigslist warns against this kind of scam.

Scam No. 2: Buying your item

Fraudulent buyers will send an email expressing interest in buying your item. They ask for a long list of personal information they can use to steal your identity. They may also send a fake check or money order to pay for your item. Craigslist also warns against these types of scams.

Scam No. 3: Award checks

With check or money order scams, a letter or e-mail is sent saying you have either won the lottery, inherited money, won a contest or that your help is needed so that the scammer can receive a similar sum of money. A large check or money order is sent to you, you are asked to cash the check, keep a portion for yourself and send the remainder back to the scammer by Western Union. The catch is, the fake check ends up bouncing, the scammer has received the money you sent and you are stuck having to pay your bank back for the fake check. The Better Business Bureau warns that this is one of the most common scams out there.

Job scams

Scam No. 1: Secret shoppers

According to the Federal Trade Commission, there are legitimate secret shopper jobs, but they do not require any money to be paid up front. A common secret shopper scam is where legitimate job sites advertise for a "secret shopper" position promising to pay you to shop. The scammer usually sends some documentation along with a fraudulent check. You are supposed to cash the check, buy goods, eat at certain restaurants and ultimately send part of the check amount back to the scammer. The FTC and the BBB have both confirmed this is a common scam.

Scam No. 2: Shipping packages

This particular scam is probably the most successful. The shipping scam starts with either an unsolicited email or a job listing on a credible job site for a "shipping rep," "shipping manager" or something similar. The person promises to send you packages with prepaid shipping labels and pay you around $20 to $50 to resend them, usually overseas. This is a successful scam, because the scammer asks for no money or personal information up front, only a name, address and phone number. If you agree to do this, you will indeed start receiving packages, usually electronics or tools. You will also probably get paid for reshipping them. The way this scam works is that the goods are purchased with stolen credit cards and you are acting as a mule so the stolen credit cards will be traced back to you, not the scammer. These goods are bought in the United State with the stolen credit cards, then resold for a profit. This scam is very common in Russia. Craigslist, Internet security company RSA Security and several law enforcement agencies have confirmed this as a scam, and legal action has been taken in some states.

Elderly scam

Grandchild in trouble

An elderly person will receive a call from a scammer, usually in Canada, claiming that their grandchild has been arrested and needs bail money. Often, another scammer will get on the phone and impersonate the grandchild trying to make the call believable. The impersonator will cry, beg and plead for the money. They will want you to send the money via Western Union to get the "grandchild" out of jail. Most likely, if you called your grandchild, they would be no where near jail, or Canada. Several Eyewitness News viewers have called reporting this scam, and one man even fell victim to it, losing nearly $6,000.

Federal grant

A victim will receive a call from a scammer, who says the victim has been awarded a federal grant for as much as $10,000. The caller then asks for the victim's personal information, such as Social Security number. Remember, federal grants must be applied for, and they wouldn't randomly be awarded.

Miscellaneous scams

Scam No. 1: FBI or U.S. Protection Service

This is a scam where a letter or e-mail is sent to you claiming to be from the FBI or a company called "U.S. Protection Service." The letter threatens legal action unless you fill out a form with very personal information, including your bank account number. This is an example of a phishing scam where scammers try to get your personal information in order to steal your identity. It's unknown if the scammers are aware of Columbus, Ohio-based U.S. Protection Service or any other companies that may share that name.

Scam No. 2: Award letters

The letters may indicate they are from reputable companies, such as Reader's Digest, Publishers Clearing House or Pepsi, but they are fakes. The letter is sent to you claiming you've won a large sum of money. This follows the common premise where the scammer will ask you to cash the check and send a small amount of the money via Western Union back to them. These scams are unique, because they use popular companies and brands to try and convince you of their legitimacy. Craigslist and the BBB both warn against this common scam.

Scam No. 3: Job e-mails

Sometimes when you register with reputable job sites, such as Monster Jobs, Hot Jobs, Career Builder or Yahoo Jobs, you may get response e-mails that claim that you are qualified for one of their positions. They are typically vague titles, such as "account manager" or "financial manager." Those e-mails typically contain some sort of application form that may ask for sensitive information, such as e-mail, address, credit card number and/or social security number. The e-mails may also ask you to attach a copy of your criminal record or credit report. E-mail solicitations like this are almost always a scam. Most reputable employers will not do all of this over e-mail without setting up an interview first. If you do receive an e-mail like this and want to know if it is legitimate, make sure they have a working address, phone number, Web site and/or good rating with the BBB.

Scam No. 4: Unknowingly calling long distance

This long distance phone scam causes consumers to inadvertently incur high charges on their phone bills. Consumers usually receive a message telling them to call a phone number with an 809, 284, 649 or 876 area code in order to collect a prize or package or obtain information about a relative, etc. The caller assumes the number is a typical three-digit U.S. area code; however, the caller is actually connected to a phone number outside the United States, often in Canada or the Caribbean, and is charged international call rates. Consumers do not learn they have been charged higher international call rates until they receive their telephone bill. A viewer reports a person claiming to be from United Parcel Service (UPS) left a message instructing him to call (876) 498-9086 regarding a "package delivery." The 876 area code is for Kingston, Jamaica, which is one of the area codes associated with scams involving long distance charges.

Scam No. 5: Pay up or else

A potential victim receives a call from a heavily accented person, who usually identifies as lawyer or law enforcement officer having a common name - John Smith, Mike Jones, etc. - and is told they received a $300 loan from "Cashnet USA" (or other company) that must be repaid now or the victim will incur jail time for fraud. Be on the lookout for the following telephone numbers from which a viewer reports he has received these scam calls: (206) 203-5852; (206) 984-0120; (530) 402-8910; (646) 506-4441; (949) 273-4357; (717) 724-3663.

Scam No. 6: Your home's in foreclosure, but it's not

Unsolicited "robo" calls will continue every 30 minutes or so, leaving a message that your home is in foreclosure and their service, "Home Help Relief Center," (or other company) can help. A viewer reports the following such numbers appeared on his caller I.D.: (425) 484-1802 and (603) 214-9039. While these sorts of companies may provide some legitimate services, falsely representing that your home is in foreclosure is likely reason enough to steer clear. To stop these calls, you may need to register your home and/or cell number with the National Do Not Call Registry.