ID thieves offer free money, new scam

It's a new twist on an old scam: identity thieves e-mailing potential victims offering cold hard cash for free. Of course, it's still just a scam.

You hear about it all the time - in fact it's very common - overseas scammers luring their victims into wiring thousands of dollars for the promise of getting a million bucks or more in return. It's typically called a "419 Scam" and more times than not it originates out of Nigeria, or Canada.

From the start, Monika Davidson knew something wasn't right about the e-mail she received.

"I read it and I said, 'This is different,'" said Davidson. "But I knew it was a scam."

Davidson received an e-mail saying she was the winner of $2.8 million. The problem is she never entered any contest. While details were sketchy, the e-mail told her she would be paid $5,000 a day. All she had to do was go to Western Union and pick it up.

The e-mail had legitimate sounding information on it: Western Union test questions and a money transfer control number. Still, something seemed off.

"Five thousand dollars in your e-mail box, that's too good to be true," she said. "When it looks to good to be true, it is too good to be true."

Davidson had seen our stories on identity theft and contacted us to go with her to try to pick up the money. We took our hidden camera to the Western Union counter at a local supermarket in Jefferson City to see if there really was cash waiting to be picked up.

"Is it $5,000 dollars?," a surprised employee asked.

Davidson said the Western Union employees were "kinda hesitant" at first. They then said her $5,000 "wasn't in the system yet." Meaning, they had no record of any money being held for her.

"This seems like the classic case of too good to be true," said consumer expert Travis Ford, with the Mo. Division of Finance.

All of this is part of an elaborate plan, says Ford, designed to get the potential victim excited - which will help the scammer steal their bank info.

"They [potential victim will] go to Western Union, they think they're going to get $5,000. They don't. They're impatient they didn't get it," said Ford. "They contact the scammer again and the scammer may say: 'Oh, sorry my mistake. Why don't you go ahead and give me your bank account or your credit card number and I'll send you the money that way.'"

Money that, of course, doesn't exist.

Identity theft's a billion dollar business. Reports from a few years ago found that over 8 million people fell victim in the U.S. alone. And it's trend that shows no signs of slowing, according to Ford.

Scammers like to use things in the news, Ford says, so expect to see health insurance or health care schemes popping up.