I'm looking for some really bad ideas.
February 9, 2010 5:07 PM   Subscribe

What are examples of clearly *sketchy* situations and scams that you want to avoid at all costs?

I'm working on a creative project and I now need to think of a large list of situations that are obviously scammy, bad, unwise ideas – a smart person would pretty much know it's a scam and try to steer a more naive person away from it.

Examples would be: (1) Responding to one of those "too good to be true" foreclosure ads on craigslist (2) Agreeing to send some money to a Nigerian prince (3) signing up for one of those lose 30 pounds in 30 days programs that are posted on telephone poles, or (4) Agreeing to live as someone's roommate for free in exchange for "unspecified services."

Can you give me other examples of these kinds of "sketchy" propositions that people run up against that you should *never* respond to? It need not be online, but it need not *not* be online, either.
posted by visual mechanic to Society & Culture (63 answers total) 26 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: "Hey, would you like a free E-Meter reading?"
posted by Aquaman at 5:10 PM on February 9, 2010 [16 favorites]

Snopes' Fraud and Scams has a pretty good list.
posted by Paragon at 5:11 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Agreeing to drive a car to another state, for a sum of cash, on the condition that you don't look in the trunk.
posted by scody at 5:12 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: The "I'm stuck in London" facebook Scam.

I have a strong distrust of strangers on the street who approach me with a long sob story about their car breaking down or something, and they need money for gas or a bus.
posted by knile at 5:12 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: This happened to me twice while standing in a parking lot outside of a supermarket in a college town. 2 or 3 guys in a white van drive up next to me and tell me that they are delivery drivers for a home theater installation company. They say that they have some leftover equipment from their last installation, and that they have to get rid of it before they return to their warehouse. They ask me if I want it for free.

I have no idea how the scam works, as I walked away from the situation both times, but the fact that it was a scam was pretty much confirmed to me the second time it occurred.
posted by 517 at 5:14 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

"Would you like to buy some speakers? I have them right here in my van."

"Here's how it works: if you sign up five people, then you get a percentage of what they sell. And if each of them sign up five people, you get a percentage of that too. No, it's not a pyramid scheme."

"I'll send you a money order, and you send me a personal check in return."
posted by gabrielsamoza at 5:17 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

buying meat (or pretty much anything else) from a door to door salesman who "made a delivery in town and has some extras".
posted by cosmicbandito at 5:17 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: These are great so far. How does the "extra speakers" scam work exactly?
posted by visual mechanic at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2010

The van scam has been around for years: White Van Speaker Scam. It also appeared in a "Mr. Show" sketch.

You might want to check out The Big Book of Hoaxes by Carl Sifakis.
posted by user92371 at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2010

Men Seeking Women Platonic Ads on craigslist?
Actually, most solicitations on craigslist. I'm assuming.
posted by lhude sing cuccu at 5:20 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: Any job that requires the applicant to first pay the employer a fee.
posted by The World Famous at 5:22 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Obviously I posted my question while the answer was being posted about the speaker scam... thanks!
posted by visual mechanic at 5:27 PM on February 9, 2010

Someone I know was recently dogsitting for someone--found the job on craigslist. A recent acquaintance, known to be a meth addict, needed a place to stay, so she offered up the place where she was dogsitting (thinking it was okay because it was only one night). Two weeks later, the dog owner got his cable bill and there was $300 worth of porn charged to it for that one night.

Not every obviously sketchy situation is a structured scam!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 5:42 PM on February 9, 2010

I've actually had someone (an ex-boyfriend) offer me a couple thousand to drive a car from one city to the other... but i was on my own if the cops stopped me. Needless to say, we didn't date long.

Another scam that I've heard of but never experienced is someone approaching you outside of a bank with a check or a store with a lottery ticket that they can't cash for some reason, but if you cash it for them, they'll split it with you. I wouldn't trust anyone who approached me with that story.
posted by patheral at 5:50 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: Back in our naive Amsterdam days, chimney sweeps would regularly call at the door and offer you their services. A pair of them sold us some sort of venting cap that they put onto our chimney high up on the roof (unreachable for normal folks).
Then they left rather hastily without ever giving me the requested receipt, so I checked from across the square - they had in fact installed something gleaming on top of the correct pipe. When I checked again a few days later, it had however moved over to the other side of the house: they had sold it to our neighbors as well.

Then there's asphalt workers at the door: "we can do your driveway for a low fee" - a typical phenomenon in rural summer Sweden. They do the first half of a quick and crumbly job and leave with all the money. Difficult to remove, asphalt.

There used to be that invasion of 'doctors' from Ukraine, who stopped you in the street and began telling you a hart-breaking story of a kid with leukemia back home for whom they were collecting money. I've heard the same tale in at least four cities in three European countries. I know people who gave a guy like that quite a lot of money.
posted by Namlit at 5:52 PM on February 9, 2010

The "I'm stuck in London" facebook Scam.

Ha. This one happened to me. The friend who got hacked happened to be sitting right next to me at work, and I could hear her fingers were not moving while she supposedly chatted to me. I said something about it, and the person on the other end responded, "why you say that??," which I know like to repeat in a funny voice.

Essentially anything where a stranger says they will pay you back later is a scam. Anything where a stranger "has extra" or offers you a "special deal" is a scam. Everything where they don't mention a price, or where they respond to a query about price with more info than just a number, is a scam.
posted by drjimmy11 at 6:09 PM on February 9, 2010

How can anyone consume $300 worth of porn in one night?! Isn't the average guy... done after he watches the first video, at least for an hour or two?

I've been hit up by a couple of these door-to-door magazine sales scams over the past few years. Sad, because it seems the salespeople are being taken advantage of too.
posted by arianell at 6:14 PM on February 9, 2010

A guy approached me in a parking lot in Concord CA and said he drank some beers with a client at lunch, and then locked his keys in his car. The police wouldn't help him, because he has been drinking, and they won't let him get into his car. The locksmith wants $60 to come and unlock his car, but something something the money is in the car or he spent it all drinking beer at the restaurant or something, so could I lend him $60 to get the locksmith to unlock the car? I can't remember how he said he would pay it back.

A guy came in off the street when I worked in a photocopy shop in San Francisco and told me a long story about how he was the son of Alan Freed, the DJ who coined the phrase "rock and roll". This man claimed he was fabulously wealthy, but because he had forgotten his wallet that day, could not get his Rolls Royce out of the parking garage. If I lent him $36 for the parking garage, he would return the next day and give me 10 million dollars. He got quite caustic when I gave him a dollar, and told him I had to get back to work.

"Pay me $3,500 to attend a seminar in which I disparage my father's money handling abilities, tell you many stories about how it's great to have a lot of money, but don't tell you anything specific about how to make any yourself."
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:16 PM on February 9, 2010 [3 favorites]

In the slums of the internet, you sometimes see redirects or popups that have a progress bar and pretend to be "scanning your computer for viruses". It then asks if you want to download software that will "clean your computer". I'm pretty sure nothing good would come of clicking "yes".

Psychic readings are a good example of a scam (although in that case you can argue that at least the psychic is working for the money, and maybe the participants subjectively get something emotional out of the experience).

Three card monty is an age-old sleight-of-hand street scam.

There's that scam from some season of Lost where someone in a semi-public place is selling cheap fake jewelry for a vastly inflated price on the fiction that is actually even MORE valuable. When the mark doubts it, the scammer's accomplice moves in pretending to be another bystander who believes the scammer, and buys several of the pieces. The mark, less sure that is is a fake, and not wishing to be a fool and miss out on the amazing deal, buys some, leaving the two scam artists with a tidy profit.

Casinos in general are a great example of a scam (again, it depends on your exact definition of a scam). The house always wins...that's why they're still in business (that and the refreshment profits)
posted by Salvor Hardin at 6:21 PM on February 9, 2010

The public phones outside Amsterdam's Centraal train station have plausible-looking (well-designed, same colour as the phone) stickers which offer a 'credit card payment' service for calls. In a moment of jetlagged stupidity, I called the number, gave my credit card number, and...was left on hold indefinitely. I asked a few locals and they said they'd never heard of the company.

In the time it took me to call my bank and cancel my card, the company processed six separate payments of US $1 each. I guess if I hadn't become suspicious, they would have kept on making small charges here and there, knowing it might be weeks before I noticed. So yeah, anything which asks you to give your credit card number to a company you're not familiar with...possible scam.
posted by embrangled at 6:27 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Oh, I'll give you another one.

I was again in a parking lot, walking into a CVS. There was a guy outside that I saw talking to some other people that set off my spidy-senses, which was odd because he was about my age and dressed fairly well. Unfortunately he noticed me as I walked to the entrance.

He proceeded to tell me a story about how he had been riding with his aunt, who had gotten pulled over for a DUI. Since it was a DUI, the car had been towed and he was left about 100 miles away from his home, which he was trying to return to. He didn't have any money on him, but at home he had a drawer full of about $2000. He didn't have a debit card because he didn't trust banks, etc... could I loan him $20 for a bus ticket home or give him a ride? He would pay me back as soon as he got home.

...or another one, which again occurred in a parking lot. Some guy hits me up for cab money, but I demurred. So he offers to sell me the coat off his back for $50. It's a real nice coat, he assures me, an original football team X coat, and $50 is a hell of deal.

I can think of a few more, but they aren't very good. Sometimes I think that I must look like a sucker.

Also, "Tiny Classified Ads" is by far the best.
posted by 517 at 6:42 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: Guys who show up to your front door saying they happened to be in the area X-ing your neighbor's Ys when they spontaneously noticed that the Ys on your property look like they are in imminent need of X-ing too and hey, they'll throw in a discount since they are in the area will almost always do a crappy job of X-ing. If you're still tempted, at least wait until they are done with your neighbor and then go look at their finished Y before hiring them.

If someone unexpectedly paints your house number on the curb out front, feel free to ignore the bill they slip into your mailbox.

The streets of San Francisco are populated by a surprising number of women who just need enough bus fare to cross the Bay Bridge in order to visit their child in Oakland's Children's Hospital. At least that's what they say to other women.
posted by jamaro at 6:51 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: Not quite a scam, but any "personal assistant" job that requires a photograph. Namely posted on craigslist, but still.
posted by questionsandanchors at 7:07 PM on February 9, 2010

The most common scams are not that elaborate and simply rely on a stranger's goodwill. It sucks, but if you've ever been scammed, your ability to believe a stranger will never be the same.

As noted in another post, a common scam involves a car that has run out of gas, is broken down, towed, etc. In order to get the car back/repaired/etc. the scammer needs X amount of cash. Person gives you some collateral or phone number/address, that turns out to be false.

This one doesn't take a lot of setup and my guess is that it gets a lot of rejections but if 1 in 10 people fall for it, it's worth it for the scammer.
posted by jeremias at 7:21 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: Three times in the past month I've been approached by adult males, obviously feigning desperation, holding asthma inhalers. They've all told me they have a child with asthma, and his/her inhaler has run out, and they need cash ASAP to get a new one. The first time, I uneasily forked over the few bucks I had. Now I just get pissed.

How about Jim & Tammy Faye Bakker type mega-churches?
posted by sallybrown at 7:40 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: String Men Of Sacre-Coeur.
posted by robotot at 8:00 PM on February 9, 2010

My high school Latin class sponsored an awesome trip to Italy and Greece when I was a freshman. On our first day in Italy, in Rome, we were wandering around near some famous fountains and stairs when some kids about our age came up to my friend Dennis Yin and through a mixture of broken English and gesturing indicated that they wanted to weave a bracelet onto his wrist. Dennis immediately asks how much it costs. Free!, free! the kids insist, and one begins weaving a colorful bracelet around Dennis' wrist despite some meek protestations. Meanwhile, sensing something wrong but being a scared 14 year old, I've crossed my arms across my chest and drawn myself up to my full gangly height to dissuade them from trying it on me. In a split, the bracelet is finished, and the kids are demanding 5,000 lira for it (about $2.50 if I recall). Dennis, poor kid, gets his wallet out, picks out the wad of unfamiliar bills, and starts counting out money. One of the kids deftly snatches the entire wad of cash out of his hand and they all run off. Dennis starts yelling at me for not doing anything. Fortunately, Dennis' parents owned several restaurants and the loss of a hundred dollars or whatever was not such a big deal for him.

In warning us about this sort of thing before the trip, our teacher told the story of a chaperone from a previous trip who literally had a baby thrown at her by a woman on the street. She reflexively caught it and was suddenly surrounded by people reaching into her clothes. They snatched the passport/wallet holder right off her neck and took everything in her pockets and bag. After she was worked over, the woman who threw the baby at her grabbed it back and walked away. I think this was supposed to have happened on some island in Greece. Not sure if I believe it, but not a bad story.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:21 PM on February 9, 2010

Or what robotot posted... man, I thought I had something unique there.
posted by Derive the Hamiltonian of... at 8:24 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: Once met an American tourist in Venice who had been scammed out of 3 or 4 grand in Thailand. Apparently, she had been approached by a local with an "incredible opportunity." He sold her a bunch of uncut, unpolished gemstones that were supposed to be worth, like, $16K in America. I'm sure he had a Perfectly Good Reason for why he could not take them to the US on his own and reap these enormous profits, but I can't remember what it was. Anyway, turns out the gems are worthless, of course, and my American tourist friend was out thousands of dollars. Later I find out that gem scams are actually pretty common in Thailand for some reason. (shrug)
posted by Afroblanco at 8:51 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

From OP: Agreeing to send some money to a Nigerian prince

What about the Fresh Prince? I seriously considered responding to this e-mail scam because I thought it was hilarious:

805 Saint Cloud Road

Dear Friend,

You may not know me, however I have happily found you via the means of the
internet. My name is William C. Smith, I am 17 years of age and I am
calling for your help quite desperately. But please, let me tell you
quickly about how my life got flipped and turned upside down, putting me
in the desperate situation you find me in today.

I was born and raised in the suburbs of West Philadelphia, USA. I spent a
lot of my time on my school playground, generally chilling and acting all
cool. I also loved to play basketball outside of the school. However one
day, whilst doing this, a couple of guys who were upto no good started to
cause trouble near my house. I got into a large fight, which scared my
mother greatly. Because of this, she suggested I move to the quiet town of
Bel-Air in California to live with my auntie and uncle. The taxi ride
there was long, however the licence plate and comedy dice in it kept me
entertained. Upon my arrival, I thanked the taxi driver and settled in
with my new family.

4 years have passed since that day, and all has been fine until now. My
Uncle Phil and Aunt Viv have recently seperated due to Aunt Viv being
unfaithful with Geoffrey the butler. My cousin Carlton has entered the
world of narcotic drugs, and the family has collapsed. My mother died last
year due to a vitamin C overdose, leaving me genuinely homeless and
without family.

However, my mother left behind a large sum of money (Approximately
$650,000USD) which is currently in the hands of the family lawyer. I can
only access this money by paying the $3500 access fees as I am under the
age of 18. If you were to help me raise these access fees, I would be
happy to compensate you with $150,000USD of the money I have been left.

Please, if you can help me out financially then I would be grateful beyond
recognition. All I need from you are the following:

Full name:
Marital status:
Tel/Fax number:

Once I have these I can then put you in contact with our family barrister,
Barrister Jazz Jeff. He will see you through any legal proceedings that we
may need to withdraw the funds, and also confirm to you what needs to be
done. He is trustworthy and a good friend of mine.

Thanks, and may God bless you.
William C Smith

The British spelling of "licence plate" is what gave it away, though.
posted by _cave at 9:00 PM on February 9, 2010 [21 favorites]

And a more serious one: I used to live in a small town in North Carolina, where we had the "Please Jesus" guy. He had a whole story about how his car broke down and he and his wife were stranded in town overnight, and "please Jesus" they needed $16 for the hotel room. I felt kind of bad after the first time of turning him down, but not after the second or third time.
posted by _cave at 9:05 PM on February 9, 2010

In the time it took me to call my bank and cancel my card, the company processed six separate payments of US $1 each. I guess if I hadn't become suspicious, they would have kept on making small charges here and there, knowing it might be weeks before I noticed.

They make the $1 charges online (in my case through a website accepting donations) to see if the card will pass through a gateway check. Repeated $1 charges show the details have been sold on (I think).

posted by Kerasia at 9:06 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Best answer: All MLMs. Anything where you have a "downline."

That con job in Paper Moon where they read the obits and go to a new widow's house with a personalized Bible her dead husband ordered for her but didn't yet pay for.
posted by GaelFC at 10:00 PM on February 9, 2010 [1 favorite]

Later I find out that gem scams are actually pretty common in Thailand for some reason.

South Asia, too. And some of these guys are incredibly good. One group of scammers got an otherwise street-smart French guy to think they were legit by asking him to work for them. Of course, the French guy himself never got scammed, since he got a cut of the profits -- he was making money, after all. But the sense of credibility his European-ness gave to those scammers allowed them to rake in much more money than they did before. Giving him a small cut wasn't a big deal in the grand scheme of things.

For a while, he just couldn't believe that he had fallen for this, even after it was explained to him. But he felt pretty badly when he did.
posted by SpringAquifer at 10:05 PM on February 9, 2010

Best answer: There's an "art student" scam in China:
College aged kids come up and introduce themselves as students in art school and wonder if you'd like to come to their final art show. There's a genuine art gallery with art up, they show you around, you might feel bad because their aspiring artists and purchase a painting. Really, though, the paintings are mass produced. As soon as you leave, a duplicate is put on the wall. They're very obliging and arrange to have it shipped back to your home country for you (I assume this is so you're not carrying around a painting and run into another tourist with the same copy.)
posted by sharkfu at 10:55 PM on February 9, 2010 [2 favorites]

Best answer: International money order scams: You're selling something on Ebay or Craigslist (generally a big ticket item). An international buyer contacts you and wants to buy said item, usually for a higher price than you are asking. They say they will send you a money order for some large amount over the price they're going to pay (say, they're going to buy your item for $1,000 but are going to send the money order for $10,000), and want you to cash the money order, take out the amount they're paying for the item plus shipping, and wire the rest to them or their "shipping agent." You receive the money order, cash it out and wire the difference...but you find out a couple days later that the money order is counterfeit. Voila, you're now out $10,000.

Also, all those "entry level sports & entertainment jobs" listed on various job boards? They're door-to-door independent sales contractor jobs.
posted by SisterHavana at 11:02 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: These are all so great, thanks everyone. Keep them coming. Once things die down I'll mark best answers, but I'm afraid if I do now people will stop answering.
posted by visual mechanic at 11:34 PM on February 9, 2010

Response by poster: Also, can any thing of any that are specially targeted towards creative people? For instance, when I was in a rock band, I couldn't believe the amount of people who would email us asking us to pay $$ for them to manage us, to train us in rock star boot camp, to get our song on their compilation CD that noone would ever want, etc. Does that kind of thing ring a bell for anybody?
posted by visual mechanic at 11:36 PM on February 9, 2010

Ah. Breakfast. Jogs the memory.
Respectable (Dutch) firm for floors and carpets tricked me into a deal I'd otherwise considered twice: they first gave me an estimate for materials and three hours work time, not cheap but acceptable. When everything was glued in, they charged me twelve hours, because they "of course" counted so-called "man hours" and came with four dudes working three hours. I knew I had no chance, so I actually almost hid my surprise and just paid (the work was done beautifully, too), but there was a very palpable "sue me if you like" atmosphere in the room, of someone very experienced in these transactions.

Actually, the mechanics of some low price flight ticket websites belong to what you're asking for: if you don't actively un-check a bunch of boxes before paying, you end up with extra insurances, a refund thingy for canceling the flight, a hotel room and whatnot else (hired car and personal assistant next no doubt).
posted by Namlit at 1:21 AM on February 10, 2010

The string men are in Paris and Rome too? Wow. I had that happen to me in Milan. I'm a woman; was approached by a friendly-seeming guy who offered to tie a woven bracelet on my arm. I asked how much. "Gratis!" was the reply - "free". Okay, I say, a bracelet is put around my wrist, and all of a sudden, it goes from the one guy, to five. Each of them taller than 5'11" woman me. My boyfriend of the time was off looking at something else, so I was alone with these guys. "Now you give us money for bracelet," the guy says in English and no longer friendly. "GRATIS È GRATIS!!" I shouted at them. "Lire, lire!! You give us money!" they closed in on me. Being the fool that I am, I stared each of them in the eye and bellowed, again, "GRATIS È GRATIS!! ZERO!!" and walked off.

I was very lucky that a police officer happened to cross our paths at the exact same time that I began to walk off. I'll never take generosity from strangers in the street again.

Another scam happened to me in my home city last month. This guy was slick and used the cachet of where I live (Nice, French Riviera) for a nearly-plausible, relatively complex story: high-fashion scam in Nice — that is a self-link, to my blog post about it (for what it's worth, I earn precisely zero from my blog). Good to know, you can absolutely call the police on scammers; in France, phone the police nationale/gendarmerie, whose number is 17. That's advertised as an emergency number, but there are several emergency numbers here and that one's specific to gendarmes; it will automatically forward you to the nearest post. (The 911 equivalent for the EU is 112.)
posted by fraula at 1:40 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Also, can any thing of any that are specially targeted towards creative people?

In poetry there is a thing with bogus or meaningless contests that require you to pay an entry or "reading" fee. Unfortunately, some of the legit ones actually work on this same principle, so it can be hard for an amateur to distinguish between them.
posted by gabrielsamoza at 1:42 AM on February 10, 2010

Wikipedia has a list of confidence tricks which is pretty extensive.
posted by sharkfu at 2:16 AM on February 10, 2010

If somebody ever comes up to you on the street and says "I'm not a bum"... he's a bum.
posted by Faint of Butt at 3:49 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Also, can any thing of any that are specially targeted towards creative people?.

Bleeding Cool has been hard on the trail of Josh Hoopes, a (literal) scam artist who presents other artists' work as his own to get jobs at low page rates, then farms out the actual work to genuine artists who are promised high rates that never get paid.
posted by permafrost at 3:53 AM on February 10, 2010

Anytime anyone comes up to you with a deal. If they are approaching you, they are selling something and want your money.
posted by gjc at 5:09 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Selling Cutco Knives. This is a pyramid scheme targeting college students who are required to put a deposit down on a set of "free" demo knives in order to sell sets of knives to family and friends. Amway works similarly but is more cultlike and creepy. Watch out!
posted by Elsie at 5:15 AM on February 10, 2010

The Real Hustle is a great show on this very topic. If you can track it down I highly recommend watching it.
posted by MesoFilter at 6:59 AM on February 10, 2010

There was this classic Ask Metafilter question from the friend of someone who got a 'job' cashing in western union money orders from Nigeria. Everyone here warned this guy repeatedly that of course this was a scam, but he persisted. Eventually (spoiler alert) it turned out it was a scam all along, and the dude lost a lot of money.
posted by Gortuk at 7:24 AM on February 10, 2010

I had never heard of the speaker scam before, but that would explain why I only got one response to my Craigslist ad where I was trying to sell the speakers that I really did win on Jeopardy!
posted by exceptinsects at 8:03 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: My rule of thumb: Anything involving Western Union is a scam. Normal people don't use Western Union to send money unless it's to family members they know and trust. Never ever send money to strangers this way.

My fiancée got roped into a new variation of the Nigerian scam involving fake rentals on Craigslist. Overseas scammers will find legitimate property listings with real addresses in your town and advertise them on CL with rent just low enough to be a great deal. When you inquire, they respond with an interview email asking for names, phone numbers, addresses, references, and bank info. And they immediately start pushing you into sending your first month's rent and a deposit (via Western Union) ASAP. The story is that they got called out of the country suddenly and have to find a tenant fast; they will cut you a deal to fill the vacancy, and mail you the keys as soon as they get the money.

A big giveaway is that Nigerian scammers tend to be overly polite and their emails are filled with awkward phrasings. Particularly keep an eye out for the words "kindly" and "regards" and anything religious like "God bless" or "faithful." In my experience these words are dead giveaways. People in America don't talk like that.
posted by The Winsome Parker Lewis at 8:22 AM on February 10, 2010

This happened to my ex in London: He was drinking at a nearly empty pub, and a woman came up and asked to share his table. He didn't get the feeling that she was soliciting, so he agreed. They chatted. When he went to leave, he got a bill for all her drinks, too. He refused to pay for them, and the bartender got up and locked the door and stared him down. He paid... not sure if this was the whole scam or if they were waiting for him to try to take her home. Definitely a situation that is sketchy. I guess they figured that most men would love to be approached by a woman and consider themselves attractive enough for it to be real, not a setup.
posted by Knowyournuts at 10:04 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: I, no great beauty, was approached in a department store by a modeling agency representative. She (appealing to my vanity I suppose) said I should become a model for her agency and she gave me her card. Looking online I found out the real story - you pay for a $600 photography session for pictures they'll send out for you. Sure, you might hit it big, but more likely they'll just make a mint taking your picture.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 10:08 AM on February 10, 2010

A recent FPP on the subject.
posted by soundofsuburbia at 11:28 AM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: A while back, I got an email from somebody who claimed that they wanted to buy some of my unused domain names. HOWEVER, before going any further, I had to get my domains "appraised" by an "independent service."

Looked it up, and yeah, scam. The scammer owned the "appraisal service," which, coincidentally, isn't free. After the "appraisal," they decide not to buy your domain name after all, but, SMACK, you're out the appraisal fee.

D'oh! Glad I didn't fall for that one.
posted by Afroblanco at 1:23 PM on February 10, 2010

I got a letter from a collection agency claiming to be collecting on my Verizon account. Since your Verizon account is your phone number + a four digit number, they can go through the phone book and fake these things up. I had my bill in front of me & knew that the +4 digit number didn't correspond to my account number.

They ask for a small amount and you can pay online, most people probably pay it because it's so easy & low impact.

I looked online & some people fell for this scam - mostly people who had moved and closed their account and believed they may have missed the last bill.
posted by MesoFilter at 2:25 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: A few Septembers ago, freshly graduated from college and with a proud alumnus license plate frame displayed on my "new" car, I drove from upstate NY to Manhattan to visit a friend. I got in very late at night, picked up my friend, and he helped me find a parking spot, not exactly in his neighborhood, but walking distance. We parked on the street somewhere in Morningside Heights. He got out to watch me park, as it was a tight spot. Nothing unusual about it.

The next day, my spidey-sense went off and I said "Let's go check on my car." We wandered over & I noticed a note on my windshield that read something like "Do not move car. Call ___." Spooked, we looked around. A middle aged man hanging around nearby said "Is that your car?" "Yeah..." "Look what you did to my car!" The car in front of me had a dent in its rear fender. I had not put it there. While it had been a tight fit the night before, there was no contact and no noise when I parked. He & his gang of other middle aged stoop-sitters started in on us. One claimed he'd seen me do it, at a time that was impossible. The claim that I'd been drunk driving was thrown out there. They tried to shake me down for a few hundred dollars cash on the spot to fix their car. My friend stood by me and said "I watched him park it. I got out of the car. What you're saying happened DID NOT HAPPEN. How do we know you didn't do this trying to get out of your spot?" "Well, it's your word against ours! Are you a student? You guys think you know everything! I bet you don't want your insurance to go up... " He brought race into the picture ("Stupid white kids!"), which is silly because I am clearly brown, just a different brown than he was. While I stood and argued, my friend thought it best to call the police. Two uniforms and two cadets(?) showed up. One uniformed guy took me across the street to ask me my side of things. The other questioned the fellows by the cars. In the end, an accident report went on file and both parties were given information on how to call to obtain a report for insurance purposes. I moved my car to another block. The street guys didn't know who I was or how to track me down directly. The NYPD didn't care, because there was no real crime and nobody was hurt.

When I told my insurance agent the story, she was baffled as to why I was telling her anything about it: I didn't have the driver's information, I denied responsibility, I wasn't hurt, my car was fine, and no charges were filed.

tl;dr: If some guy says you broke his something so you should pay to fix it, and you know you aren't at fault, don't pay him. Feel free to involve agencies that scare him.
posted by knile at 2:51 PM on February 10, 2010

Derive the Hamiltonian of..., Alan Noren describes exactly the same scam in his book, Storm. While Noren was travelling in Bulgaria, a Gypsy woman and group of children approached him. Suddenly, the woman threw a baby towards him. Sensing that this was some kind of scam, he didn't catch it. One of the children stepped out of the group and caught the baby. The woman gave him a "You've passed the test" look before she and the children vanished.
(The rest of the book is really good, too.)
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 4:14 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: No one's mentioned the Beijing tea scam yet? It seems to be a Beijing-specific variant of the scam that Knowyournuts posted.
posted by mhum at 4:34 PM on February 10, 2010

They make the $1 charges online (in my case through a website accepting donations) to see if the card will pass through a gateway check. Repeated $1 charges show the details have been sold on (I think).

Thanks for this explanation, Kerasia. I had begun to wonder if cancelling my card was an overreaction, given how little money I lost. It's good to know all that panic wasn't unwarranted.
posted by embrangled at 7:35 PM on February 10, 2010

Best answer: Two guys bump into you then drop a take-out carton of food, spilling it on the sidewalk. "Hey, that's my dinner!" Physically intimidate you and guilt trip you. You know it's a scam because they scoop the food off the sidewalk and back into the carton so they can do it again.

They wanted $15, I had my companion pay them $10. Heh.
posted by kathrineg at 7:39 PM on February 10, 2010

Two guys bump into you then drop a take-out carton of food, spilling it on the sidewalk. "Hey, that's my dinner!" Physically intimidate you and guilt trip you. You know it's a scam because they scoop the food off the sidewalk and back into the carton so they can do it again.

I can confirm this one and add that the surrounding blocks around Penn Station in NYC (with its fertile ground of out-of-towners in a rush) is where you'll see it daily.
posted by jeremias at 8:41 PM on February 11, 2010

Best answer: Along the lines of the string scams- I was at the fountain in Rome with a female friend I was visiting in Italy for the week. A woman walks up to me and puts a rose in my hand. I thank her and turn with my friend and start walking away. The now visibly upset woman runs up to us demanding money. I gave her the rose back. I don't know if this quite qualifies, but if it wasn't a scam, it was rather sketchy.

For a while there were deaf people on the subways in Boston selling POS keychains for very more than they were worth. Most of the money went to their handlers, they got very little of it. That one I fell for. I don't give money on the subway now.
posted by Hactar at 11:56 PM on February 11, 2010

A large, affable man approaches you on the street, admires your shoes, and says,
"I bet you twenty dollars I can tell where you got your shoes."
You think, "I'm not even from here. How can this loser possibly know where I got my shoes?"
You say, "You're on. I bet you don't know where I got my shoes."
He says, "You got them on your feet!"
And suddenly he is not nearly so affable about collecting his bet.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 6:55 PM on February 23, 2010

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