Desperate times often lead to desperate measures. I've noticed several money scams during COVID-19 we should all be aware of. If you know of more money scams, please share them in the comments section below.
It makes me so mad that there are scammers out there. I've been scammed before, and it felt terrible. But at least when I was scammed I was younger and it wasn't for a lot of money. After I was scammed, I became much more vigilant.
Some Previous Attempted Money Scams
One time, this random guy came up to me at a grocery store parking lot and said he had a $10,000 home theatre system he was willing to sell to me for just $500. Curious, I had him show me the goods. The brand was some high-end sounding, no-name brand. He happened to have an extra set he could offload for cheap without his manager finding out. Pass.
Another time, someone on Craigslist was selling a car for 50% below book value so I reached out. After e-mailing back and forth, he wanted me to wire him $5,000 to an escrow site to secure the purchase. I got on the phone with him and he clearly wasn't based in the Bay Area. When I asked him, he said he was on a business trip in Tel Aviv, but was coming back soon. I passed.
Money scammers are everywhere! Beware! The easiest way to never get scammed is to never buy anything. Alas, money is meant to be spent on a better life.
Money Scams During COVID-19
The first money scam really isn't a money scam. It's more a crafty way of doing business that everybody should be aware of.
I don't blame business owners for trying to extract more money out of their customers during a pandemic. However, consumers must be aware of price gouging.
Price Gouging At The Auto Shop
One of the good things about the pandemic is less driving. I was going to get new tires at the end of last year because the tread was getting close to the wear bar. However, since my driving has gone way down, my tires have lasted much longer.
When I called my local auto shop to get a quote, they said that my tires had increased in price from about $350 last year to $475 each. After tax, mounting, and a disposal fee, the total cost to get two new tires would be $1,080!
What the hell? I know my 22-inch 275/40R M&S tires by Continental are expensive, but not THAT expensive.
I asked the auto shop whether they were sure this was the best they could do. They said, yes, since prices have gone up since last year. They said I could get $50 off, but that's it. I told them I'd think about it.
After we hung up, I looked online at a couple tire websites. The tires were priced at $335 before tax, mounting, and disposal fees. Therefore, the total cost for two installed tires would be closer to $830 instead of $1,030 after my $50 “discount.”
So I went back to the auto shop and asked them to price match. The guy said he doesn't have the authority and their dealer price is what it is. I told him OK and hung up. He wasn't getting my business, despite being in the neighborhood.
An hour later the auto guy called back and said he could do it for $880. Now that's more like it! Although $880 was still about $50 more than what I could get if I went to a shop farther away, I decided $880 was good enough.
It's A Numbers Game
Here's the thing folks. Many businesses will purposefully quote you a much higher price. They've figured out that a certain percentage of the time, the customer will just say yes, not thinking anything is wrong.
Some customers will know the quoted price is on the high side but still say yes out of convenience. I'm such a customer because I highly value my time. Finally, another percentage of customers will do their research online and ask for a price match.
So long as the business is courteous and strives to match the requests of customers who do their due diligence, the business may do comparatively better than a competing business that always offers the lowest price to its customers.
Always be the customer who does his or her research online. It doesn't matter whether you're getting competing quotes for tires, life insurance, or mortgage rates. Chances are high, if you don't shop around, you are paying too much.
For years, my wife thought she had an OK life insurance deal with USAA for $60/month for a $500,000 term policy. We just trusted USAA to provide us the best rates since I've been a member since 2000. However, one day, I told her my $1 million term life insurance policy cost only $40/month. Given she was younger than me and just as healthy, we decided to shop online.
It turns out, USAA wasn't the best rate at all. She was able to get a new $1 million term life policy for $52 thanks to PolicyGenius. In other words, she got double the coverage for less. This is why price comparison sites have flourished.
The second money scam is false advertising online. It's much worse than the false advertising McDonald's has for its burgers on TV. Some people are creating convincing video ads to sell generic crappy products under newly created brands. It's legal, but the products are terrible.
These video ads are aggressively popping up all over Twitter and Facebook with products that look enticing to people stuck at home. Some examples include caulk that instantly kills bathroom mold, a water balloon bubble blob for your kids, and a liquid that instantly fixes glass cracks.
Unfortunately, none of these products work as advertised. Even though the below pictured product looked too good to be true, I bought this water balloon bubble blob for my son to play with outside this summer. The cost was $23 after taxes, shipping & handling. Not that big of a risk if the product turned out to be a dud.
Instead of getting what was advertised in the picture above (video made it look more amazing), all I got was basically a thicker skin balloon I could have bought for a buck at Walgreens. The product was so sad. But what was more sad was that I failed to provide something fun for my boy during lockdown.
Therefore, of course I contested the product with my rewards credit card with fraud protection and got my money back. But just like with my tire pricing example, you know a good percentage of disappointed customers don't bother asking for a refund.
A Note On Secure Websites
If you are going to transact online, the website needs to be HTTPS secure. You can find out by looking at the very left of the URL field in your browser and see if the URL starts with HTTPS or has a lock symbol. If not, the website is more vulnerable.
HTTPS stands for Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure. It is used for authentication, privacy, and integrity of the exchanged data while in transit. HTTPS protects against man-in-the-middle attacks, eavesdropping, and tampering. Financial Samurai is HTTPS secure, even though this isn't an e-commerce site.
Unemployment Benefits Fraud
One day, I noticed I was getting a ton of mail at a property I was listing for rent. Every single envelope came from the California Employment Development Department (EDD).
Most envelopes had different names on them all with my rental property address. But some envelopes had the same name twice. In one out of every 4-5 envelopes, I could feel there was an unemployment debit card inside.
Then one evening, during the barrage of EDD letters, I got a call from a shady sounding man claiming that he had sent an envelope to my address by mistake. He had gotten my number because I had listed it on the Zillow Rental App, which was a mistake on my part.
The shady guy first said he had accidentally sent his Carfax data to my address. As I pressed further, he said it was actually his unemployment benefits. When I asked him his name, he said one name, which I told him didn't match any of the envelopes in my possession.
He hung up and then called me back and identified the name on one of my envelopes. I asked him why he gave me a different name, and he said it's because I sounded very intimidating.
He then said he would pay me money if I could send him the envelope. I asked him how much and he said, “How about $1,000?”
By this time, I knew this was obviously an complete identity theft/unemployment benefits money scam. With the enhanced unemployment benefits of $600/week plus the usual unemployment benefits, scammers are coming out of the woodwork!
Report The Unemployment Benefits Scam
I met up with my local mailman to tell him about the scam and had him return all the envelopes to the EDD. Then I reported the scam online to the EDD with the victim's names. I really hope the EDD rectifies the situation.
If these are real people who are unemployed and need the money to survive, it is absolutely terrible what these money scammers are doing! You constantly read reports about how some unemployed people have still not received any benefits months after applying. I've got to imagine it's partially because of these money scammers.
If you are still waiting on your unemployment benefits, please call the EDD and let them know you may be a victim of the scam. If you are receiving a barrage of EDD letters addressed to random names at your home, please know this is a scam and send them back to the EDD ASAP.
Wire Fraud Scam When Buying A Home
Finally, I want to highlight a wire fraud scam a reader sent me after reading my post, Real Estate Buying Strategies During COVID-19.
I want to spread awareness amongst people purchasing or selling houses regarding the huge increase in wire frauds. Most transactions are happening virtually during the pandemic.
I had a recent experience where my relative was in the process of purchasing his first house. One day before settlement (Friday) he received wire instructions from the title company to transfer the down payment and closing costs.
On settlement day, the following Monday, they are at the table signing documents, when the title company asks for the cashiers check. When my relative told the title company the money had been already wired, he finds out that the title company had never sent any wiring instructions!
It turns out that scammers had intercepted their email communication, quietly monitoring everything, and waited for the perfect time to spoof title company’s email and get the money. By the time the buyer realized all this it was too late and all his savings were permanently gone.
Can you imagine hearing that? Turns out that this happens to thousands of people every year in the US and there have been no regulations placed to protect consumers.
This has happened to buyers, sellers, refinancing with cash out, and all sorts of transactions, so folks please be aware and careful.
Holy crap! This money scam is one of the most sophisticated and worst types of money scams I have ever heard of. I have bought and sold multiple homes in the past, and the earnest money deposit and remaining down payment deposit has always been sent through a wire transfer. This is big money.
Triple Check Before Sending Money
Before I send a wire transfer, I get an e-mail from the title officer saying an encrypted e-mail with the instructions have been sent. After getting the instructions, then I get a call from the title officer repeating the instructions to me. This is to ensure everything is legit.
Even after all these precautions, I have wondered how do I really know for sure the wire transfer instructions are legit. Therefore, I end up Googling the title officer's name, company, and bank account numbers for one last check before sending the money.
So far, I haven't been the victim of a wire fraud scam. Just know that once you send a wire transfer, it is extremely difficult to recover the money. Therefore, you must triple check everything is legit before sending any money.
Money Scams Are Only Going To Increase
The longer the lockdowns and the pandemic go on, the more money scams there will be.
Already, over $1 billion in Paycheck Protection Program money has been improperly sent to illegitimate small businesses. Surely even more PPP fraud has yet to be uncovered.
My sincere hope is that more money scammers will decide to make an honest living. It can't feel good to scam people out of their hard-earned money. The people who scam seniors out of their retirements savings are some of the worst.
Before buying anything or sending money to anyone, please research the product and the organization receiving money. The longer the organization has been around and the more positive reviews the better.
Please also make sure the website you plan to purchase on is HTTPS secure. Finally, use a rewards credit card or a payment tool like Paypal with fraud protection. Having a large financial institution in your corner during a dispute is always great.
My favorite rewards credit card is the Chase Freedom Unlimited® card because it provides 1.5% unlimited cash back, charges no annual fee, and has a good purchase protection plan. You also earn a $200 Bonus after you spend $500 on purchases in your first three months from account opening.
Have you experienced any money scams before? If so, what happened and how was it resolved? Besides never spending money, how else can you avoid money scams?