Scammers have found yet another way to exploit people who need money fast, including cash-strapped college students. They pay them to open wireless contracts that include new smartphones, tablets and other mobile devices. The scammers convince people (referred to as targets) to use their own identity, personal information and credit to get the wireless devices. These individuals are called "credit mules."
A scammer asks the target to buy a number of phones under separate contracts. The scammer pays the target and reminds them to cancel the contracts within the allotted time – typically 15 to 30 days.
The scammer then takes the phones, unlocks them and sells them for profit. A single unlocked phone with no contract can be sold on the street in the U.S. for hundreds of dollars – and overseas, for thousands.
But when the targets try to cancel the contracts, they realize they've been duped. Regardless of what the scammers told them, they can't cancel the contracts without returning the phones. So the victims are not only on the hook to pay for the phones, but they also have to pay the monthly service fees for the length of the contracts. If they can't pay, the accounts go to collection and their credit ratings suffer. Negative credit can affect can affect their ability to get credit, insurance, a job and even a place to live.
If you have been approached by someone offering you cash to sign a wireless contract, have heard of someone else who was approached, or if you have already been victimized by a scammer, the Federal Trade Commission wants to hear about it. Your complaints help them stop rip-off artists, scammers and fraudsters. You can contact the FTC at www.ftc.gov.
Kelly serves as Army Community Service’s Financial Readiness Program manager.