Yesterday I got a letter from “US Airlines.” It advised me that I had “qualified for an award of 2 roundtrip airline tickets,” valid for travel anywhere in the continental United States, with a retail value of up to $1,400. The letter was signed by “Barbara Dion, Vice President.”
It didn’t take more than a glance at the letter to see all kinds of red flags. “US Airlines,” whose motto is “Fly the US Skies”? Who are those guys? Not US Airways, or United Airlines, whose motto is “Fly the friendly skies.” (And, of course, a quick Google search turned up no entity called “US Airlines.”) The letter had no return address or general contact information. It also was filled with phony urgency. It advised that “US Airlines” has “attempted contacting” me several times “without success,” and the letter would be their last attempt. (I’m pretty easy to reach, and I don’t recall any prior communications from “US Airlines.”) If I don’t call by December 15, at the phone number listed, the ticket vouchers will likely be issued to “the alternate.” I’m quite confident that anyone who called the phone number would be asked to give their credit card number and other confidential personal information to “verify their identity,” and the scammers would be off to the races.
Scammers suck, but they’ve been around for the entirety of human history. Lazy, crafty people have always come up with schemes to try to trick or cheat others out of their hard-earned money. Most scams, however, aren’t as careful, plausible, and elaborate as the play that netted Doyle Lonnegan (brilliantly played by Robert Shaw) in The Sting. People just need to be on their toes, look for red flags that really aren’t hard to see, and maintain a skeptical attitude. With those attributes, people can usually avoid falling for the half-baked scams that are so commonplace in modern America.