02/22/2013 02:22 pm ET Updated Apr 24, 2013

Caveat Emptor: Meteor Advisory

Officials at the Federal Trade Commission are warning Americans to be on the alert for a new wave of consumer fraud based on the recent arrival of a large meteor in northern Russia.

"Scammers claiming to possess fragments of that object are now seeking out gullible collectors on street corners all over the country," said an FTC spokesman. "We've had reports from coast to coast and the pitch is always the same. A person carrying a small paper sack strikes up a conversation by saying, "Hey buddy -- how'd you like to own a piece of galactic history?"

Officials warn all potential victims not to be fooled by the contents of the sack and offered three specific examples of bogus meteor remains:

Small jar of ashes: "We saw a lot of this after Mount St. Helens blew up in 1980," said one investigator. "All a perp has to do is scoop the leftovers from a fireplace into little containers and slap on a label that says 'Genuine Russian Meteor Particles.' It makes astronomers crazy to hear that people still fall for this. They say it's more evidence that people are getting all their scientific information from cable TV shows like Here Comes Honey Boo Boo."

Charcoal Briquette: "A variation on the ash gambit," according to another expert. "The scammer gives a long explanation of how the object has been seared and blackened on its journey through the atmosphere. You'd be amazed how many people never think to ask why the fragment is so light, and sometimes has a hickory scent."

Automobile parts: "This one is really bad," says a longtime fraud analysts. "Because it targets teenagers. The bag usually contains a spark plug, and since most schools don't have auto shop class anymore, kids never get to see what a car engine looks like, or how it works. The simple solution here is to just look closely and if you see the words "Autolite" or "AC Delco" or anything similar on the object, you know it didn't come from outer space."

"Frankly," said one FBI source, "the whole idea of meteor fragments being collectible just baffles me. So what if the thing fell out of the sky? Hey, dead birds fall out of the sky and land in my yard all the time, and nobody ever collects them to sell on e-Bay. Just sayin'."