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Sneakiest New Scams

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Illustration by James Yang

Illustration by James Yang

Dot-com Deception

There are many ways to be scammed online. The most common include:

1. The Misspelled Domain Name Scam. Cybercrooks have for years depended on you mistyping a website address—such as wellfargo.com (with no “s”) instead of the correct wellsfargo.com—to lead you to their bogus websites. But legitimate companies wised up, and purchased similarly misspelled domain names to prevent you from venturing into unsafe cyber waters.

The New Twist. Instead of relying on users misspelling, scammers purchase website domain names that are spelled the same as legitimate sites but are missing the all-important “dot” between the company’s name and the ending “com” (such as mailyahoo.com instead of the correct mail.yahoo.com). A recent study found 30 percent of Fortune 500 companies susceptible to dot-missing domain variations; researchers were able to collect more than 120,000 personal emails.

2. Cybersquatting. This is when scammers launch copycat websites of well-known online retailers to sell shoddy or counterfeit goods.

The New Twist. Bogus sites are now created with correctly spelled domain names, but registered in countries like Mongolia, which has a suffix of .mn rather than .com. The result: a fumble-fingered user heading for the Tiffany website may mistakenly type in tiffanyco.mn, or a phishing email will arrive in your inbox offering a great deal and a link back to the spot-on replica. Until exposed, scammers running that now-defunct site were able to sell junk jewelry masquerading as real Tiffany to the unwary.

Protect Yourself from Online Scams. Avoid using search engines to find websites; bogus ones lurk among the legitimate. Instead, carefully type the address yourself—ensuring it’s spelled correctly, has a correctly placed “dot,” and there are no letters after “com.”

Home Repair Hoaxes

Each summer, roaming bands of fix-it fraudsters hit neighborhoods in search of potential home improvement projects they happen to spot from their passing pickup trucks. Here’s how the scam works:

Strangers Offering Assistance. When fly-by-day bad guys offer to fix your driveway or your roof—often for a very reasonable-sounding price—the telltale phrase is: “I need money to go buy materials.” Cash in hand, your work crew takes off, but instead of heading for Home Depot, they hit the highway, never to return.

New Twists. There are multiple variations on the roaming work crew scam, including:

“Woodchucks.” The name derives from their focus on tree-limb removal and other yard work … at least at first. Woodchucks aren’t looking for a fast getaway. Instead, they come up with a list of subsequent swindles. After you pay their ridiculous fees for simple landscaping, they’ll discover your roof needs repair, gutters need cleaning— the home “improvements” continue until you’re in the poorhouse. These scoundrels like to cruise neighborhoods in warm-weather months, specifically targeting older homeowners by looking for homes with wheelchair ramps and handicapped tags on car windows.

Financing fraudsters. Offering their help in financing expensive home repairs—say, a new kitchen or siding—they claim to have special deals with low-cost lenders. The truth: Their “lenders” are loan sharks, and the fine-print in their contracts could include clauses that transfer possession of your home to the contractor or his associates. Once paperwork is signed, “the contractor, who may have been paid by the lender, has little interest in completing the work to your satisfaction,” notes the FTC.

Master Distracters. Some “con-tractors” who come to your door offering their services have a more nefarious purpose: to distract you so a waiting accomplice can burglarize your home. One will lead you outdoors to “explain” the required repair while the other sneaks inside to steal your wallet, jewelry, or medication.

Protect Yourself From Home Repair Fraud. Don’t hire workers who show up at the door. Instead, find legitimate local contractors with recommendations from trusted friends and neighbors and then check the courthouse for past or active lawsuits by former customers. Get multiple written bids for projects—and second opinions when told your home needs additional repairs. Don’t sign any contract until it’s carefully read, and never trust self-described “utility workers” or others who arrive unexpectedly, even when sporting uniforms or badges. (Call the company yourself to verify their identities). Finally check the license plate of a contractor’s vehicle: If it’s from a faraway state, suspect trouble; good ones don’t have to cross multiple state lines to find work.

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