Part Two

Welcome to the second installment of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. Our aim is to share information that will help innocent people protect themselves from being victimized by bad actors trying to get their money. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].

Story of an employment scam 

John is excited to start the Virtual Personal Assistant Job for which he was recently hired. He saw the opportunity posted on the school job board and believed it was a perfect fit. Many of his peers have gotten good jobs from the school job board, and this seemed like his opportunity. The hours were flexible, the job paid well, and he would work for a reputable company he recognized and liked. Although he was nervous during the Zoom interview, the interviewer was friendly and polite. 

  At no point did John think he was being tricked and that the person he was talking to was only interested in stealing his money. Everything seemed so professional and legitimate. John even received an offer letter with the company logo on it, and there was a work contract to sign to make his employment official. But there was another item included in the envelope he received from the employer that was different than for other job offers John had received in the past.  

  A check was made out in his name for a few thousand dollars with instructions to deposit it into his bank account. The check was issued from the company’s finance department, and the funds were apparently intended for purchasing supplies required for the job. 

  John followed the employer’s instructions and deposited the check into his bank account. Then he immediately went to a website the employer told him to go to and purchased the items the company said he needed for the job. 

  A few days later, John received a call from his bank informing him about a fraudulent check he had deposited into his account. Unfortunately, the check from his new employer was fake, and the money used to purchase the supplies was now gone from his account. John is responsible for paying the lost money back to the bank. 

What happened and why?  

The fake employer was a scam artist who used a fake website and a fraudulent check to steal money from John. Even though the job posting appeared alongside legitimate job opportunities, it wasn’t real. The offer letter and job contract that John received in the mail were designed to trick him into thinking he was applying for a real job. 

  Checks are not a guarantee of money. When a person receives a check, it is only a promise that the money is real. Only after a check clears the financial institution, which can take several days, is the money from a check guaranteed. The check had not yet cleared when John purchased items from the fake website, and when John bought the items, the scammer received real money through the website he had created for this purpose. 

Preventing employment scams 

  1. Be cautious about accepting a position without meeting an employer in person, even if it’s a work-from-home position. 
  1. Be cautious when a new employer sends you a check to buy items. This activity is unusual. 
  1. If a job seems too good to be true, it probably is, so be cautious. It could be an employment scam. 
  1. If an employer asks you to notify them when you deposit their check, be cautious because this could be a sign that you are being scammed. 

What to do if you think you’re a fraud victim or might be getting scammed? 

  1. Call your bank. 
  1. Report the scam to The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by calling (877) FTC-HELP / (877) 382-4357 or online at
  1. Contact local law enforcement. 
  1. Contact the Internet Crime Complaint Center at This is the nation’s central hub for reporting cybercrime. 

Preventing identity theft 

Identity theft occurs when someone uses another individual’s personal or financial information without their permission, typically for economic gain. The stolen information can include details such as your name, date of birth, Social Security number, address, credit card numbers, financial account information, passwords, and other sensitive data. Reports of identity theft have grown exponentially in the past few years, with over 1.1 million reports filed through the Federal Trade Commission’s website in 2022. 

Fraudsters are becoming increasingly sophisticated in their ways of stealing personal information, which can be obtained through stolen mail, data breaches, computer viruses, or lost or stolen wallets. Also, fraudsters might see and record card numbers or PINs during transactions, or use card skimmers – a device that steals information at places like gas pumps and ATMs. Becoming a victim of identity theft can lead to financial loss, a damaged credit score, legal troubles, emotional distress, a loss of reputation, and more. To minimize the risk of falling victim to identity theft, consider doing the following: 

Safeguard physical records 

Identity thieves can do a lot of financial harm with a lost or stolen wallet, mail, or documents people throw away, so safeguard important documents at home or in a safe deposit box at a bank. These include your Social Security card, birth certificate, passport, financial account statements, and tax documents. All these documents should be stored in a locked safe. If you are throwing away any documents with personal information on them, first tear them up or shred them. Sensitive materials such as account statements, credit applications or offers, insurance forms, medical statements, checks, and utility bills can be a goldmine for thieves who find them in the trash. 

Additionally, collect your mail daily. If an identity thief is willing to steal sensitive data out of the garbage, they also are likely willing to steal sensitive data out of a mailbox. Consider signing up for the U.S. Postal Service’s Informed Delivery, which will notify you ahead of time with a digital preview of items being delivered – that way you’ll know if something is missing. If you are going to be away from home for a while, sign up for the post office’s Hold Mail service. If you use this tool, the USPS will safely hold your mail at the local post office until you return home, for up to 30 days. 

Enable two-factor authentication 

Two-factor authentication is a way to safeguard your identity on all your accounts. By adding two-factor authentication, you can only access your account after entering your username and password, then by completing another prompt, such as entering a code you receive by text or email, or by scanning fingerprints. Without these, a fraudster can’t access your accounts. 

Don’t overshare on social media 

Social media platforms are treasure troves for identity thieves. Not only do people commonly share their full name and date of birth on social media, but they often share updates on their whereabouts and interactions with family members. Identity thieves can then use this public information to guess the answers to common security questions or passwords. 

Monitor statements and credit reports 

Taking the time to regularly review credit card and financial account statements is important. If a fraudster somehow ends up with your credit card number or account information, they could start making charges. A common tactic is to make small charges at first to see if they can get away with it. After that, they may start increasing the charge amounts or just continue to tally up small purchases – hoping that the victim never notices. If you notice something suspicious when reviewing a statement, call your financial institution or credit card provider right away. They will walk you through the steps needed to lessen or eliminate the impact of identity theft. 

Also monitor your credit report. By going to, you can get a free report every 12 months from each major credit bureau – Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. Checking reports can show you where your credit stands, ensure your credit information is accurate, allow you to respond to changes quickly, and give your insight on how it can be improved. If you look at your report and suspect you’ve been a victim of identity theft, you can report the situation through and make a recovery plan. 

Freeze credit 

When you freeze your credit, nobody (not even you) can open an account, apply for a loan, or get a new credit card in your name without first unfreezing it. To freeze your credit, contact each of the three main credit bureaus: Equifax, Experian, and TransUnion. There are online, mail-in, or telephone options for freezing credit. It’s free, it has no impact on credit scores, and you can unfreeze their credit at any time. If you aren’t actively shopping for a credit card or loan, freezing your credit provides good protection against identity theft. 

Bottom Line 

Preventing identity theft is vital for protecting individual rights, privacy, and financial well-being, and applying the tips outlined above can help keep you from becoming a victim of fraud. 

Welcome to the first of Amjambo’s four-month series on fraud and scams. We are sharing information to help protect you from those who might be trying to get your money by illegal means. If you have had an experience with fraud or scams and would like to share it, or have a tip that could help others, please contact [email protected].  

Part One

How to recognize a scam before it happens 

In 2022, Americans lost over $8 billion to scams. Why are scammers so successful? It’s because they are experts at looking and sounding trustworthy and smart. These scammers also know the deepest desires of their victims and use this knowledge to their advantage. 

The top five scams in 2022 were imposter scams; online shopping scams; prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; investment-related reports; and business and job opportunities. 

  The best line of defense to protect against scams is recognizing red flags – signs that a potential scam is about to happen. Below is a list of red flags to be aware of. 

1. Unsolicited communications: Beware of unsolicited calls, emails, or messages claiming to be from banks, government agencies, service providers, or well-known companies. A call like this could be from an imposter. Legitimate institutions usually only contact individuals with prior notice. If you get a suspicious call, hang up and call the caller back. But first verify the number. Do not hit redial. 

  2. Urgent requests for money: Scammers often create a sense of urgency, pressuring victims to make quick decisions. These requests typically use unconventional payment methods like gift cards or wire transfers. Legitimate businesses will provide ample time and multiple options for payment. 

  3. Too-good-to-be-true offers: If an offer sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Scammers may promise guaranteed loans, high-return investments, or lottery winnings to entice victims to put down money. Thorough research is crucial when investing money. 

  4. Requests for personal information: Legitimate organizations have secure procedures for handling sensitive information and won’t ask for it via email or over the phone. It’s essential to be extremely careful with personal information. Sharing details like passwords, verification codes, or pin numbers can lead to a scammer gaining access to a bank account.  

  5. Poor communication: Look out for communication filled with grammatical errors, unofficial email addresses, or unsecured websites (those without “https” in the URL). These are signs of potential scams. 

  6. Employment scams: Employment scams are a common trap for job seekers, particularly those new to the workforce or unfamiliar with the job market. These scams typically involve fraudsters posing as employers or recruiters offering attractive employment opportunities. The catch is that these “opportunities” often require the job seeker to pay upfront fees for training, background checks, or supplies, or they may be asked to provide sensitive personal information. To recognize these scams, individuals should be wary of job offers that seem too good to be true, require upfront payment, or demand personal information such as Social Security numbers and bank details early in the process. Legitimate employers will not ask for money up front and will have secure methods for candidates to submit necessary information. Always research the company and verify the job offer before proceeding with any commitment. 

  7. Immigration threats: Some scammers specifically target immigrants, posing as immigration authorities and threatening legal consequences unless a fee is paid. 

Frauds and scams are similar, but different 

For most people, earning enough money to live on is hard work, and protecting it is key to maintaining financial security. The last thing anyone wants is for their money to be stolen from them by scammers and fraudsters. Being able to recognize the signs of scams and frauds – the red flags –  is essential in safeguarding one’s hard-earned money. Understanding the differences between kinds of schemes can be helpful too. Here are some practical tips to help people avoid falling victim to deceitful practices. 


Fraud is financial theft, and refers to deceptive and dishonest activities carried out with the intention of gaining financial or personal benefits – all while breaking the law. Examples of fraud include unauthorized use of someone else’s credit or debit card, stealing someone’s identity and opening accounts in their name, and taking over an unsuspecting person’s financial accounts. Fraud is more difficult to protect yourself from than scams, as fraud happens without people being aware. However, regularly keeping an eye on financial accounts for suspicious activity can help you spot irregular activity quickly, and stop it from continuing. 


A scam is financial theft with one’s permission or knowledge. Scams are tricks designed to persuade people to believe false information or promises, with the goal of gaining their money, their personal information, or other valuables. Scammers often manipulate their victims by exploiting their trust. Examples of scams include people pretending to be debt collectors, offering fake investment opportunities, or promising fake lottery or prize winnings. For example, a scammer could mail, call, text, or email you and say you’ve won a prize through a lottery or sweepstakes, and then ask you to pay an upfront fee to receive the rest of the money. But eventually the victim discovers there is no prize. The scammer simply wanted quick money from the victim. One of the most important ways to avoid being preyed upon is by staying informed about the latest scams. Investigating anything that seems suspicious before participating is key to avoiding being scammed. 

To avoid becoming a victim 

Be Cautious – Be cautious about sharing personal or financial information with others, whether online or offline. Sensitive information, such as banking information, passwords, Social Security numbers, addresses, and phone numbers should not be shared with strangers, whether they are unfamiliar callers, email senders, or from unfamiliar websites. Sensitive information should be carefully protected. 

Strengthen security – Use strong, unique passwords for each online account and use two-factor authentication whenever possible. Two-factor authentication is an extra security step in the process of logging into an account: you enter either your username or email address, followed by your password. However, instead of then being granted access to your account, you are required to confirm your identity via another specified method. For example, you may receive a text message or an email with a one-time code that must be entered to complete the login process. Other two-factor authentication methods include biometric information, such as fingerprint or facial recognition scanning. Two-factor authentication can feel annoying, since it requires an extra step, but it protects sensitive information.  

 Resist pressure to take immediate action – Being asked to act quickly is a warning sign of a potential scam. Scammers want people to act quickly and make payments without taking the time to think through a situation. Honest organizations will give people plenty of time to make a decision, not pressure them to spend their money right away. 

Avoid unusual payment methods – If an unfamiliar person or business asks you to send a payment via a wire transfer, prepaid card, or cryptocurrency, do not do it. These methods are nearly untraceable, and once the money is sent, it’s usually gone for good. 

Develop awareness – Regularly educate yourself about the latest tactics being used by fraudsters and scammers. Common frauds and scams are regularly shared on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau’s website. Keeping up with circulating attempts to steal money can help you spot common warning signs and red flags that might indicate a fraudulent attempt to obtain your financial or personal information before it happens. 

  Trust your instincts – If a scheme seems too good to be true, it probably is. If you are at all suspicious about a proposal, talk with a trusted friend, family member, or your financial institution before spending money. Better safe than sorry. 

Bottom line 

Knowing the difference between frauds and scams is an important part of understanding the full picture in regard to the deceptive practices that exist in today’s world. By educating yourself and being prepared to spot red flags, you can avoid falling victim to fraudsters and scammers. 

Be cautious about housing scams in Maine’s difficult housing market  

By: Oriana Farnham  

This is a hard time to find an apartment in Maine. Our state is facing a housing crisis – there aren’t enough places to live, especially places you can afford. But even if you are urgently looking for safe housing, it’s important to keep an eye out for potential scams.

Look for apartments on reputable websites  

It’s always best to learn of an open apartment from your friends or other people you can trust because you can ask them if the landlord is trustworthy. However, if your friends or others you trust  don’t know of any open apartments, the best place to look for an apartment is on the website of a reputable property management company. For example, Avesta and Port Property list available apartments on their websites.   

It’s also possible to find apartments advertised on websites or social media sites like Facebook, Craigslist, and Zillow. However, be careful when you use these posts. Scammers can advertise for apartments using fake information and fake pictures. Make sure all the information is accurate before agreeing to rent one of those apartments. Ask around in your community to see if people have heard of the landlord and if the landlord is trustworthy and fair.   

Know your rights with application fees.   

Maine just passed a new law that stops landlords from charging application fees. This law will go into effect in October. This new law also stops landlords from charging for background checks unless the landlord gives you a copy of the results from the background check.   

If you look for a new apartment before the new law goes into effect, be careful before agreeing to pay an application fee. Paying the fee doesn’t mean you will get the apartment. Some people pay application fees for a lot of apartments and don’t get approved to rent any of them. Not all landlords charge application fees. Some landlords use the fees to do “credit checks” or “background checks” on tenants, but it’s not required. A typical application fee in Maine will be $50 or less. In Portland, landlords are not allowed to charge more than $30 for an application fee. Be cautious if someone is charging a higher fee.   

Go see the apartment before you agree to rent it.   

It’s very unusual for a landlord not to show you an apartment before you agree to rent it. You should always ask to see the apartment first. If the landlord says it’s not possible, ask the landlord why. Even if other tenants are still living there, the landlord has the right to take you into the apartment to show it to you. If the landlord won’t show you the apartment, they may be hiding health and safety problems or other problems in the apartment or building.    

Don’t pay the landlord any money until you’ve signed a lease.   

Most landlords in Maine will charge a “security deposit” and possibly first or last month’s rent before you move in. It’s unusual for a landlord to charge a fee to “hold” the apartment. You should not pay the landlord anything until they’ve signed a lease with you.   

  A lease is a contract to rent an apartment for a certain amount of time – usually a year. In Maine, you can rent an apartment without a lease. This is called a “tenancy at will.” However, it’s best to ask the landlord for a lease. If the landlord refuses to sign a lease with you, it is very important to confirm that you are dealing with a trustworthy landlord by checking with friends or other community members. Some scammers pretend to offer an apartment, collect a security deposit or other charges, and then disappear with the tenant’s money.   

Take time to understand the lease before you sign.   

Leases usually have complicated legal language and they can be hard to read and understand. It’s OK to ask the landlord for some time to look it over with an interpreter or your community resources before you sign.   

Stay alert during your housing search! You can learn more about your rights as a tenant in Maine by calling Pine Tree Legal Assistance or reading their self-help guides, or contact us at Maine Equal Justice through our website or by calling us at (207) 626-7058.