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Cons Get to You Where You Work

Thieves tailor their scams to particular occupations

Phony job offers remain among the most common scams. But here's another target: people who actually have jobs. Often the schemes are designed to exploit the concerns and work style of particular professions. Here's what to watch out for:


An email arrives telling the target doctor of online postings concerning sexual indecency or other misdeeds that "will destroy your reputation."

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Scammers target certain occupational groups such as doctors or lawyers, issuing fake checks for retainer fees and then asking for return dollars

Photo by Photolibrary

Law firms are targeted in cons tailored to occupations.

The scammers promise that for $250 they could "convince the people who posted the comments to remove them," reports the FBI's Internet Crime Complaint Center.

The threatening message usually includes the doctor's name, address, phone number and other information, likely drawn from online medical directories or purchased mailing lists.

But the real reason why some may end up paying is that the postings may actually exist: Writers are recruited through job ads overseas and promised $10 for each poison post. (And those writers may get scammed too: the IC3 heard from one author who complained that after writing 150 posts in a week, he never got paid.)

It's unclear whether in this new version of the old protection racket the postings actually get deleted if you pay the $250.

It's unclear whether in this new version of the old protection racket the postings actually get deleted if you pay the $250.


A law firm is contacted by a scammer claiming to need representation. Usually it's for a divorce or a business or property transaction. A check is mailed to the firm as a "retainer." It's deposited but before the bank has authenticated it (this can take up to two weeks), the "client" says that the case has been settled and asks for a return of the money, minus legal fees.

The check proves to be counterfeit — but money returned to the scammer from the firm's account is very real. The result: The lawyer loses the money.

This scam first appeared in 2008 but is again on the increase, warranting recent warnings from several state bar associations.

Real Estate Agents

Bogus investors feign interest in buying a property and offer payment in cash. The checks they send are clever forgeries that appear to come from legitimate investment firms. It's the same bait-and-switch: The "buyer" walks from the deal and requests return of the funds, before the deposited check proves fake. The agent loses funds sent to the scammer.

Restaurant Owners and Employees

Claiming to be investigating complaints of food poisoning or poor sanitation, imposter inspectors visit eateries and threaten to close them unless payment is given to make a citation disappear.

This a classic con. But recently, scammers posing as government officials have been trying to collect restaurant staffers' personal information. They say that Social Security numbers are needed for agency records. What the numbers are really needed for, of course, is identity theft.

Also of interest: Investment fraud con artists. >>

Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.