In From ScamBusters:
How Scam Charity Victims End Up on a Sucker List -- And What
You Can Do to Avoid This
Have you ever given money to a scam charity, only to discover
not only that your money has gone to an unworthy cause but
also that other crooks seem to have got wind of your
generosity and are after you for a slice of the action?
Or maybe you know someone who is convinced they've really won
a lottery payout this time, even though they previously fell
for exactly the same sort of scam and lost a small fortune
trying to collect it.
If either of these types of incidents applies, chances are
that you (or your friend or relative) have your name on a
Time for a quick history lesson:
Back in 1941, a movie called Sucker List told how fraudulent
racetrack touts would repeatedly target the same victims with
phony race tips that would entice them into betting bigger and
bigger sums until they were financially cleaned out.
Even earlier, in 1923, an investment con used a similar
approach, offering to buy a victim's stock in a certain
company for way more than its value.
The catch was that the "buyer" would only purchase say 1,000
shares, while the victim only owned 100. Then, "by
coincidence" the victim would get an opportunity to buy the
900 shares he needed from a mystery seller at a knockdown
He'd buy, then go back to his "purchaser" to complete the
deal. But suddenly, the "purchaser" would only deal for 2,000
shares. And so on.
You get the picture. This con was known as "reloading" and it
was based on the same idea of repeatedly returning to the same
victim for more money.
Sad to say, decades later, this type of repeat crime has
become increasingly common, based on the notion that consumers
who have been tricked once are likely to fall for another
scam. So their names go onto a sucker list.
These lists are traded and exchanged between criminals. And
they often contain a startling amount of detail -- not just
your name, address and phone number, but perhaps also details
of your savings and your ability to lay your hands on more
cash if needed.
If you've ever been seriously scammed, chances are your name
could be on one.
How Do You Know if You're on a Sucker List?
You'll probably know if you (or a friend or relative) are on a
sucker list by the volume of solicitations received every day.
We all get spaham (misspelled intentionally), junk mail and
telemarketing calls, but if you get the sort that seek money
-- from scam charity groups, lottery organizations, Nigerian
bankers and questionable health product vendors -- all the
time (maybe dozens a day), then you are probably being
Perhaps not surprisingly, older folks, particularly those in
their 80s and 90s, are key targets for repeat scam charity
requests and other money-spinning tricks.
Internet news pages are littered with distressing stories of
people who discovered their aged parents have been handing
over money left, right and center for all manner of
non-existent causes or rubbish products.
Worse still, in some cases, the victims refuse to accept
they've been tricked and become secretive as another scam
charity or lottery win appears on the horizon.
(If you are interested to hear a lottery scam artist at work,
listen to this recording from the Seattle Times.)
Unfortunately, once you (or someone dear to you) get onto a
sucker list, there's little you can do to get off it other
than by persistently ignoring the scam charities and others to
the point where the crooks lose interest in you.
But there are a number of actions you can take to try to
ensure that happens or that your/their name doesn't get onto a
sucker list in the first place.
How to Avoid Getting on a Sucker List:
* You haven't won a lottery or inherited a fortune, so don't
respond to claims you have. You can find more on lottery
scams and on secret fortunes, better known as Nigerian scams,
* To avoid scam charity groups, check out any organization
seeking donations. For lists, visit the Wise Giving Alliance
or the American Institute of Philanthropy or check if they are
licensed with your state.
You can also see if the organization is registered as a 501
(c)(3) charity with the IRS.
For more on charity scams, see these Scambusters issues.
* Report bogus mail solicitations to the Postal Inspection
* Ensure you are registered on all mail and telemarketing
opt-out or do-not-call lists. See this Federal Trade
Commission (FTC) site for more info.
* Install anti-spaham software on your PC or set up a spaham
filter in your email program. If you don't know how to do
this, seek advice from a computer-knowledgeable person.
* If you are truly being bombarded, consider changing your
email address and/or phone number, and keep them
* Above all, do not respond to any solicitations for money
that come from someone you don't know.
If you suspect a friend or relative may be on a sucker list
used for charity scams, bogus lotteries and other cons, you
may get a hint from their behavior.
If they seem to be secretive or to be regularly acquiring
magazine subscriptions, online health medications, trinkets or
other novelties, or withdrawing or spending large sums of
money, tactfully ask about them.
Whether or not this is happening, take the time to explain
about charity scams and other tricks and tell them about
sucker lists. They may not want to hear (and certainly won't
want to be labeled as "suckers") but persist.
In the case of close relatives who continue to hand over money
for dubious causes, you might be able to persuade them to let
you review their mail and to not make payments without
In limited cases, it is possible to take legal action for what
is called conservatorship or durable power of attorney, which
enables you to monitor or control their spending. You should
speak to an attorney about this.
The sad thing is that some people, who might otherwise
consider their lives to be dull, enjoy the "excitement" of
chasing elusive lottery wins (that the rest of us know are
A widely-practiced, sneaky trick, for example, is to tell a
victim they've won a lottery but for an additional payment
they'll be entered for an even bigger prize.
Of course, they "win" that too and can then go on to the next
level for another fee. And on it goes, with victims borrowing,
maxing their credit cards and even mortgaging their homes in
their attempt to land the big one.
Don't let that be you -- or anyone you care about.
The reality is that you don't have to be a sucker to get on to
a sucker list or become the repeated target of a charity scam.
But you do have to work darned hard to escape. However, you
can do it!
But better yet, by subscribing to Scambusters and by telling
people you care about to subscribe as well, you can learn
about scams BEFORE you become a victim. That's a much better
That's all for today -- we'll see you next week.