Pros and cons - Credit card scammers are both

It's the world we live in. And so it probably isn't surprising to anyone that in the wake of Hurricanes Irene and Lee, and with the September 11th anniversary upon us, authorities, from local police departments to the U.S. Homeland Security Department, have been warning the public not to fall for scams designed to separate you and your credit card information.

Scammers are pros at being cons

You can imagine the scene. Fake roofers show up at your door, promising to get started fixing your home tomorrow, if you'll just put down a deposit on your credit card today. Faux charity representatives claim to represent a September 11th-related charity and hope you'll take a little time to help out with a small donation through your credit card. Sadly, some people are taken in by these schemes.

And so it seems like as good a time as any to run through some of the credit card scams currently going on.

Tampa, Florida

According to Tampa Bay Online on Sep. 2, the Tampa Electric Company has put out a warning to its customers, alerting them about a telephone scam in which a man posing as a Tampa Electric Company employee has been calling and warning people at businesses that their company's electricity will be turned off within 24 hours due to an expired credit card or an unsigned check.

It is a scam that has worked at least one time. A customer reportedly gave out a credit card number and soon apparently found that someone had a merry time shopping.

Southern California

Something about electric companies apparently brings out the con men. The Imperial Valley Press reported on Sep. 6 that several Coachella Valley businesses have been receiving phone calls from an organization purporting to be "an electric company merging with California Edison." The caller then has been asking customers for debit or credit card information in order to avoid being disconnected.

The report suggested that a few businesses have fallen for the trick. Easy to understand why. No business would want to be without power. But I'd hate to be the employee that had to explain to their boss how they were duped into giving away the company credit card number.

Twin Falls, Idaho

According to 1310 KLIX Radio on Aug. 23, some residents of Twin Falls have reportedly gotten recorded phone calls claiming to be from Wells Fargo, stating that their credit card has been locked. The customer is then told to call another number, where they'll need to reveal some personal information to prove who they are, and then the card will be unlocked.

Of course, this isn't the case at all. Wells Fargo is doing no such thing. The con artists actually are just trying to get personal information, so they can take out another credit card in their victim's name and pretty much simultaneously shop and ruin someone else's life at the same time. Reportedly, at least one person has fallen for this trick.

Naples, Florida

Maybe it's in the water, the penchant of con artists to attach their credit card schemes to utilities, because here's another one, only this time it does involve water. (Or, yes, perhaps one person is calling around various parts of the country, pretending to be associated with a local utility. Anything is possible.)

In any case, reported on Aug. 26 that the City of Naples Finance Department alerted police after learning that two different residents had been contacted and told that their water was going to be shut off for nonpayment, unless they paid up promptly with their credit card. Fortunately, neither resident fell for the trick.

But while con artists are constantly trying to trip up people into giving out their credit card information, people are better off doing that than wiring strangers money. As you'll see with this next scam.

Billings, Montana

The Billings Police Department and the Montana General Attorney's office have both put out word that there is a rental property scam that recently appeared on Craigslist, according to the Billings Gazette on Sep. 3.

It's a rather involved and somewhat ingenious scam. The con artist takes pictures and has information about actual rental or sale properties and then puts up a fake ad--with an appealing price.

So the victim calls about it, and the scammer says something to the effect that he lives out of town, and so he can't meet the person to show off the property, but, hey, wire the first and last month's rent along with a security property, and it's yours, I'll send you the keys to the place.

But, of course, the keys are never sent.

"When you pay for something with a credit card or check, there's at least some sort of trail," Detective Brett Lapham told the Billings Gazette. "But when you wire the money, they pick it up and, poof, it's gone."

Not that anyone wants to take giving out their credit card lightly. Having someone "buy" goods in your name is anything but good. Even though federal law makes it clear that you aren't liable for anything more than $50, if there is unauthorized use of your credit card, you still may have to deal with any possible fallout from your credit score, if, for instance, it takes you a while to realize someone has stolen your card, and the way you learn about it is because your credit card is dinging you for late and missed payments.

But, hey, if you are going to lose sleep over being conned out of a lot of money, arguably it's better to have it done through credit cards instead of cash. And even better, of course, don't fall for a scam in the first place.

Let's be careful out there.

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