A Series on Con Artists: Types of Con Artist Scams Past Con Artists Current Con Artists


Stranded Neighbor

While people can easily be genuinely stranded (not everybody carries their credit card everywhere, and being broke doesn't mean you can't ask for help), the key thing that makes this a con is that the person does not actually intend to use the money they ask for to buy gas, a train ticket, or other way to get out of their predicament. Instead of simply asking for money, their falsehood in their circumstances and the intended use for your charity (and the implication that you can help them with one act and they will be okay) makes this a con. Charity is great and important, but charities that ask for money for a purpose and then use it for other reasons is bad, be it a large charity or a single person.

Example: YouTube video of a news team following some panhandlers, including a “stranded” teenage girl. Some of these scamming panhandlers are relatively successful, estimated to earn up to $50/hr and may just be local kids/teenagers.

See Crying Girl Con Artist for an iconic example.

Fake Fundraiser Con

We've all experienced those door-to-door fundraisers. Elementary school kids sell candy, wrapping paper, or magazine subscriptions. Shadier, pushier teens and adults sell candy bars for $5 apiece to supposedly raise money for leadership training, summer camp, and what have you. Not surprisingly, these aren't always legitimate. While you shouldn't necessarily call the cops on your neighbor's 4th grader, exercise caution. If you're suspicious, it's probably for good reason.

If you get a visit from these characters, contact the Davis Police Department. If you want to verify the legitimacy of fundraisers who come by, call the University Development Office at (530) 754-4438, or look up the phone number for whatever other organization they claim to represent. If you're suspicious but want to donate to the organization, contact the organization on your own and arrange to make a donation without going through a shady intermediary.

Interested Room-Seeker Con

This usually happens when someone leaves a posting online for a room that is available for rent. The con artist usually poses as a foreign student and contacts the poster about being interested in the room and then sends a check that is a certain amount over the requested amount for deposit, first month's rent, or any other possible costs involved in adding oneself to a lease. Then the con artist contacts the poster and asks for the extra money to be wired back (before the check bounces) in order to purchase plane tickets. Once the poster wires the money, the poster is out at least a thousand dollars or so. So those with an available room for rent, make sure the check clears before wiring money to anyone. But a cleared check does not put you completely in the clear. Banks are required by law to make funds available within a few days but it might take weeks before the issuer's bank processes and clears the check. Before the check is cleared by the issuer's bank, your bank is basically loaning you the money.

  • This goes on with selling used cars and the like, as well. It's also common for these people to call the number for a posting using a hearing assisted phone service, where there's an intermediary supposedly translating everything. No idea why... but my brother got two different calls like this when he was selling his car on the Bay Area Craigslist, both of them offering to send a check for a couple grand over asking price, letting him refund the difference. I have no idea why anyone would agree to this, but regardless, something to watch out for. —TomGarberson
    • It's a very common scam on Craigslist. If you sell something expensive on there, you will likely get a lot of scam e-mails sent to you. Some may even be automated. —IDoNotExist
  • Don't think that a cleared check will stop the bank from taking the money from you. They can up to 3 months after the check is cashed. —jimstewart

Cheap Housing Con

High housing turnover and people looking to live cheaply will sometimes lead to a scam where someone posts a bogus house on craigslist or similar, and then charges some kind of "viewing fee" or "advance deposit". Usually the houses involved in this are recently put on the market for sale, which is where the con finds the info. In order to avoid, google the address and see if the house has recently been on the market. Also, as always, if it's too good to be true, it probably is!

Returning Merchandise

Anyone been asked to return something for a guy outside Target, or maybe elsewhere? Target requires an ID to return something without the receipt to keep track of how many times you do this to catch shoplifters. This guy claims he lost the receipt and forgot his ID at home (out of town) and needs to return some expensive razor blades...

Free Music Speakers

One of the most classic modern scams, this is essentially anybody selling something they got by accident and need to unload quickly.