Category Archives: Useful Information

To Catch a Catphish

To almost all, we extend our greetings for a pleasant and romantic Valentine’s Day. But not for all. Valentine’s Day is not just the time for pink hearts, flowing ribbons, flouncy cards, and chocolate. It is also a time for the proverbial “catphish” to prey on the unsuspecting victim of love. For my fellow Southerners, I am not referring to the tasty fried denizen of the deep that goes well with hushpuppies. I am referring to the slimy scum suckers who prey on the innocent, pretending to be someone they are not in order to pluck the heartstrings as they plunder the purse strings.

You know who you are. Your anthem looks something like this:

“Song of the Catphish”
(With apologies to Robert Frost)

The scum is slimey, as I am,
But I have paramours to scam,
And many yearning loves to spam,
And many yearning loves to spam.

For those less familiar with the species, the catphish is not found in dark, deep ponds, but in chat rooms, social internet sites, and dating websites. You do not fish for catphish. They fish for you. Like a wriggling worm, they disguise themselves using every form of deception to win your affections and your trust, never letting on that a barbed hook lies within. They court you, and charm you, even relying on pity, patriotism and guilt to manipulate you into making decisions you will regret.

And when, at last, you nibble the bait, they set the hook.

Like their distant but more respectable catfish cousins, catphish are bottom feeders. They seek emotionally susceptible targets of opportunity, the elderly, the young, the emotionally fragile, those yearning for love.

They insist on remaining out of sight. All communications with them will be by e-mail, cell phones, text messages, or untraceable letters. Circumstances will always place them out of reach. They may be overseas, or in prison, or in the military. Meeting for coffee is out of the question. Part of their charm, in fact, is their unavailability.

They may be destitute, dying of cancer, or some other curable disease. Death will usually be avoidable if only they could afford a surgery. They may be healthier specimens, whose distant mother is dying. Her last request is to see her only son; but alas, the son cannot afford to travel to her side. They may be facing a sudden emergency, and need financial help, having no one else to whom they can turn for aid. They may be desperate to come to the side of the lovelorn to render solace, but without the means to do so.

The stories vary as widely as the creativity of the species of catphish at issue, but they all have a common thread: they play on an emotional string, coupled with a financial need they cannot satisfy. The one who comes to their aid will win their undying love. Enter the barbed hook.

Just as Paganini wrote variations on a theme, so the catphish will create a potentially infinite number of variations to bypass the radar of the wary. If you plead poverty, they will find someone to send a cashier’s check, or a postal money order to your account, provided that you are willing to transfer the funds to them. Of course, your transfer must be by wire. Their funds are fraudulent; yours are genuine. And as the catfish can deliver a stinging blow, so the catphish will deliver its financial poison.

Then, having stung its victim, the catphish descends into the muck from which its rose, only to seek its next victim.

So how do you beat the catphish? As my wife reminds me from time to time when I try to open a stubborn box, “You have to be smarter than the box.”

Gentle reader, you have to be smarter than the catphish. Don’t get sucked in. Don’t fall for that ever unseen love. And when you are tempted to send money to a stranger, ask your children if they mind you sending their inheritance to a faceless bottom dweller. The second opinion cannot hurt more than the impending theft.

If you think you are the victim of a scam, contact the Attorney General at 1-888-551-4636.

Copyright 2014 Gregory D. Lucas

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Poster Scammers Are At It Again

In what has become an annual scare tactic rife with opportunities for fraud, poster scammers contact businesses, intimidating them with threats of fines or worse for not posting or updating state and federal mandated employment posters. While it is true that most businesses must prominently display a number of employment posters, all of which can be obtained free of charge, the scare tactic works something like this:

A company sends intimidating letters, e-mails, or other communications warning you that you are subject to hefty fines from every government agency known to man if you dare to conduct business for one more day without having the required government posters, updated annually. They warn of the imminent $17,000 fine that will be assessed, with daily assessments for continued violations. Of course, you can spare yourself the agony of government imposed fines by sending them only $99.95. Each year, the threats are renewed, the fines increased, and the fear multiplied.

The latest variation on a theme comes from a California company calling itself the Labor Standards Compliance Office (LSCO). LSCO is not registered to do business in Washington. It uses a mail drop as its official address, but otherwise maintains no physical office in Washington. Posing as a government agency, LSCO sends official-looking correspondence that appears to impose a $295.00 fee that is “Now Due” for failure to comply with posting regulations. Boldly emblazoned in the upper right corner are the words:

FINAL NOTICE
Failure to comply with 2013 labor
law requirements may lead to
government fines and/or audits

The notice is as official looking, and as intimidating, as an impending IRS audit. While it is true that legitimate private vendors may sell such posters, communications that create the appearance of being official notices from a government agency seeking to impose a sense of urgency at the recipient’s risk of peril are nothing less than fraudulent.

On February 4, 2014, the Washington Attorney General’s Office filed a complaint against LSCO in the Spokane County Superior Court, seeking to impose an injunction and civil penalties against LSCO. But while this action may have the result of shutting down one operator, at least until they can form another company to carry on, they are by no means the only company engaged in such tactics.

In its February 5th announcement, the Attorney General announced that it learned of another company, called Labor Law Compliance Institute, LLC that was engaging in a similar scam. Labor Law Compliance Institute (“LLCI”) also operates out of a mail drop, this time in Largo, Florida, a haven for nationwide scams. LLCI tries to sell labor law posters for $143, and has managed to attain the slightly less than coveted “F” rating given by the Better Business Bureau.

As already noted, government required posters are available to be downloaded or requested free of charge. The following websites offer all the essential posters:

http://www.lni.wa.gov/IPUB/101-054-000.asp

http://www.esd.wa.gov/uitax/formsandpubs/ui-tax-forms.php

http://www.Posters.Lni.wa.gov

http://www.dol.gov/elaws/posters.htm

In addition, the recommended Human Rights Commission poster on prohibiting discrimination in employment can be obtained free of charge by calling 1-800-233-3247 (in Washington State) or 360-753-6770.

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Too Much of a Good Thing?

If you engaged in the purchase, sale or refinance of real estate recently, you may find that the volume of junk mail you receive has ballooned out of control. Because mailing information quickly becomes outdated, transactions leading to the creation of public records are often “mined” by commercial mailing services to update databases. The data is then sold and resold repeatedly, allowing companies to plant the next day’s garbage in your mailbox.

But you are not without alternatives. The respective credit reporting agencies offer “opt-out” telephone numbers to enable you to minimize the amount of junk mail that you receive. By contacting the following telephone numbers, you may opt out of mailing lists that lead to junk mail.

Equifax 1-888-567-8688
Experian 1-402 458 5247
TransUnion 1-888-5-OPT-OUT (888-567-8688)

Remember that not all good things last forever. You must periodically repeat the process, or you may find that junk mail again finds its way to your door.

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Start your Financial Wellness Check-up

If you have not done so, it may be time to check your own credit report to insure that everything is as it should be.  The Fair and Accurate Credit Transactions Act (“FACT” Act) allows you a free annual credit report from each of the established credit reporting agencies, including Equifax, Experian and TransUnion.

A centralized service was created by the credit reporting agencies to enable consumers to efficiently request their own free credit reports.  You may request your credit reports through the following website:  www.annualcreditreport.com

Of course, credit reports may alternatively be obtained telephonically by contacting the respective credit reporting agencies at the following telephone numbers: 

Equifax:          1-800-685-1111
Experian:        1-888-397-3742
TransUnion:   1-877-322-8228

As always, remember to exercise extreme caution when it comes to providing your personal information, including your Social Security Number, and never provide that information to anyone who contacts you requesting it.  When in doubt, seek legal counsel.

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