DETROIT – Scam artists are always finding new ways to steal your money, and they also keep sinking to new lows to make a buck.
Criminals are targeting people selling their wedding rings. For many people, a wedding ring isn't just worth money, it's also an emotional investment.
"You feel violated. You feel like you've been robbed. It felt like somebody was in my house and took it out of my jewelry box," said Joley Tetreault-McNeil, a recent scam victim.
In her case, her wedding ring had been sitting in a drawer for years after a divorce. When she felt like it was time to move on, she hoped she could make some money with it.
She sold the ring on Craigslist for $5,500 to man, and he said he would send the money if she would ship the ring overnight. He offered to send the money via PayPal, and sent an email that appeared to be from PayPal.
But it was bogus, which meant the money wasn't coming and the ring had already been shipped out.
Beware of emotional pleas
Even worse, the scammers often use emotional stories to soften up the victim. Investigators say the scammers will claim to be in the military and they want to propose to their girlfriend before heading overseas.
On the other end, the scammers use unsuspecting middle men to sell the stolen jewelry at pawn shops. Police say the go-betweens aren't told the jewelry is stolen and are instructed to send the money to Nigeria.
Police have been able to recover some rings before they're re-sold, but most of the jewelry is gone and there victim never receives payment.
Online buying and selling: precautions and red flags
The wedding ring scam is just the latest example of how scammers can use the online marketplace to try to steal your money. You need to be careful whether you're buying or selling, as the crooks look to take advantage in both directions.
Earlier this year, Help Me Hank did a story about how crooks pretend to sell used cars online, asking for payment up front, and the victims find out the car was never really for sale. In that case, the scammer claimed the owner of the car was a soldier who died, and she needed to make a quick sale.
Here's a list of factors to consider every time you do business online.
- Do you homework about the market value of whatever you are buying or selling. If you get an offer that seems too good to be true, it probably is. You need to be realistic about what items should cost. If you think you're scoring some incredible deal, you could end up getting ripped off.
- Know the seller or meet in person BEFORE sending any money. If someone is offering to pay you before they receive an item, you should be very suspicious.
- It's usually best to meet in person to make the transaction. Meet in a public place. Never meet someone alone. Some local police departments will allow you to do transactions in their parking lot.
- Always be wary of requests to be paid in cash, pre-paid debit cards, wire transfers, or any method that cannot easily be traced.
- If you're not used a trusted website with security encryption, never share your personal information online.
- If someone sends you an email, allegedly from a reputable company, do not call the customer services number on that email. Instead, do your own search for a legitimate customer service number and call too make sure the email isn't a fake.
- Don't be swayed by a seller's personal story. If you're doing business, there's no reason to hear about their personal situations. If someone is telling you a story that is pushing your emotional buttons, that's probably a warning sign. People who use emotional please are very often up to no good.
- When doing business with a company, check the return policy. Understand who pays the shipping for returns.
- Look for a physical address for any company that your do business with online. You might want to do some extra research on any company that doesn't have a physical address. Also, look for a customer service number and see if it works. If you can't reach the company before you make a purchase, imagine your frustration when there's a problem later.
- The Better Business Bureau says it's usually better to pay with a credit card. Most credit cards offer some level of protection and you can dispute charges for goods or services you don't actually receive. It's also good to have one "dirty" credit card you use for all online purchases. That way if there is ever a data breach of any kind, only that one card will be at risk.
- If you make a deal and receive cash, count the cash carefully before turning over the merchandise.
- Beware of any funds coming from another country.