My girlfriend is a big fan of the show "Teen Mom." Because of that, I'll sit in front of the TV with her while I write, and she keeps me updated on the lives of these 18 year old parents. It is an occasionally interesting show, to see how these kids cope with parenthood. When the show amplifies the drama, my attention wanes and I only periodically glance at the TV. The latest episode caught my attention.
Last week, my girlfriend told me that Farrah, one of the moms, was scammed while selling her car. I'd heard of many scams against people who are buying a car, but never selling. I sat down and watched the show. I came in as Farrah listed her car on Craigslist. My girlfriend is a notorious channel-changer, so I'm not sure what I missed, but the next thing I knew, Farrah was on the phone with her bank and her account was -$2600. As soon as I heard that, I knew what had happened. I speak with people on the phone who've encountered similar scams. And sometimes, I have to tell them that they've lost their savings.
I'm sure it went down something like this. Farrah listed her car for $5000, seemingly unaware that her car was not worth it, and she quickly got an offer. I assume the offer was from outside the country, probably Canada. They seem to have told her that $5000 was no problem and they would send her a check for the car and the shipping costs to send it to Canada. They probably said that the taxes and getting the car through customs was expensive and the fees could only be paid by the seller. The scammer likely told Farrah to send the money to a "handler" of some sort. Whether the handler claimed to be an IRS agent or customs agent doesn't matter; it was actually the scam artist or an accomplice. This is a variant of more common wire transfer scams.
Around the internet, people have been a little too hard on Farrah for her mistake. Scammers find people that have some trust in others and then manipulate it. Scam artists are convincing and charming, believable and adaptive. The good ones can role with most situations and maintain their trustworthy facade. Anyone and everyone can be persuaded, especially an isolated and emotionally distraught teenager. In a recent US Weekly interview, Farrah said that she felt stupid for what she did. And while it is now recognizable as a bad decision, it's more difficult to see at the time. It happens to many others.
I ran across a commenter or two on different websites discussing the scam and they were shocked to find out this happened to people who were not senior citizens. Some people believe that to be ripped off, one must have mental problems such as senility. This is NOT the case. Most victims of scams have full mental capacity. The reason that the elderly are targeted more often is because they are isolated. They have sometimes outlived all their friends or spouses that used to give them advice. They might be in financial straits because they live only on a meager social security check. Financial burdens lead people to make desperate decisions.
To con artists, Farrah is an appealing victim, though she didn't know it when they stole her money. She lost her child's father in a car accident. She was forced to rid herself of her parents, who were abusive and at times incapable of rational thought. She found herself living on her own for the first time, without her parents' guidance, without a partner to advise her, in financial desperation and perpetually distracted by the needs of her daughter. Single mothers are as desirable targets as the elderly, but they're more assailable. Single mothers use email, Craigslist, Careerbuilder, cell phones and other technologies, giving scammers more opportunities to contact them. Farrah is the type of person I most often have to tell that they lost their money. It's horrible, but it happens. It doesn't mean that the victim should feel ashamed.
If you or anyone you know gets caught in a similar scam, you should immediately contact the Federal Trade Commission (1-877-FTC-HELP) and the police department of whatever state or province the money was wired to. If the money was wired to Canada, contact Phonebusters (1-888-495-8501) and the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Fraud Division (613-993-6884). It is difficult to track these scam artists down, but the quicker you act, the better your chances.