ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — If there’s been a disaster, there’s going to be a slew of scams that try to capitalize on it.
Besides the usual warnings about fake charities, here’s a different kind of trap to avoid falling into: the storm-damaged used car scam.
This one involves unscrupulous car salesmen who scoop up vehicles damaged by floods and hurricanes and ship them across the country for re-sale.
“While these cars may look and run fine at first, flood-damaged vehicles often have malfunctioning airbags or hidden rust and mold problems, and may not run properly in the long term,” says Fraud.org, which is part of the National Consumers League.
Here’s what to do:
• Check a vehicle’s history report through a reputable source like the National Insurance Crime Bureau’s free database, at www.nicb.org.
• Look for signs of flooding like water stains in the glovebox or fogging inside headlights and tail lights.
• Take a big whiff. While the scent of mildew is an obvious warning sign, a heavy disinfectant smell should also set off alarm bells as well. Heavy-aroma cleaners can be a sign that someone is trying to hide mold.
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The ubiquitous Craigslist scams are victimizing Albuquerque-area residents, state Attorney General Hector Balderas says.
One woman who fell for it ended up losing $2,000 to a bogus rent-to-own listing “without receiving all the keys – and being locked out of and unable to occupy the house,” the AG says.
In another instance recently, a Craiglist advertiser offered a house for rent and asked for a deposit of earnest money, even though the “landlord” did not own the house.
“Both might have been avoided by consumers who were a little more suspicious and cautious about paying any money over to anyone prior to taking possession of a property,” the AG says.
Some general things to keep in mind, regarding Craigslist, courtesy of the AG’s office:
• Don’t pay anyone more than the purchase or rental price just because the seller promised to refund the excess. “It is almost 100 percent unlikely you will ever receive that refund.”
• Don’t pay anyone without meeting first in person. When doing that, meet at a neutral, public place accompanied by a friend or family member – not at your home and not by yourself.
• Don’t rent or try to purchase a house without meeting the person offering it for sale or lease, looking inside, having a complete written agreement, and making sure to have all the keys.
• In the context of a home sale, don’t be conned into trusting someone who promises that all money will be collected through an online escrow service. “Almost all online escrow services are fake and operated by scammers.”
• Never wire or send money to a foreign country based on a Craigslist or other similar advertisement. Doing so it will make it much more difficult to get a refund.
• Whenever possible, pay with a credit card and never with cash. Credit card companies can sometimes stop payment when a consumer mistakenly pays a scammer.
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Netflix users, watch out for a fake email that’s telling people their account has been disabled due to out- of-date payment information.
The message tells people their payment information must be updated before the account can be reactivated.
It looks real, but it’s a basic phishing scam. Those who click on the embedded link will be asked to enter payment information that will go directly to scammers and not the streaming service.
In one version the email begins with “Dear User” and continues this way, “We’re having some trouble with your current billing information. We’ll try again, but in the meantime, you may want to update your payment details.”
Once users click on the link provided, they are asked to enter their new payment information. The link is managed by scammers who then steal the money and use the payment information for future charges and potentially identity theft.
Ellen Marks is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact her at email@example.com or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.