Each year the Better Business Bureau reports on the previous year’s most damaging and prevalent scams so consumers can better recognize the tactics. No scam is too old to be revamped or too despicable to be perpetrated on the unsuspecting. Culled from victims’ reports, federal agencies and other reliable sources, the list gives a cross-section of the latest twists on tactics used by rip-off artists.
The list is made up of scams that “seemed the most audacious, the most egregious,” said Carrie A. Hurt, president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus. “They hurt a lot of people, and it seems that scams are only getting more prevalent even as consumers are getting savvier.”
Here are the top scams of 2012:
• Fake check/overpayment scam. “Get Paid Just for Driving Around,” reads an online ad. It sounds terrific to receive “$400+ per week” just for letting a prominent company put its logo on your car. Sign up and they send you a check. Deposit it in your account and wire a designated amount to the “graphic designer” who will put it on your car. The check bounces, there is no graphic designer and you are out the money that you wired.
• Grandparents scam. A phone call, text message or e-mail claims to be from a grandchild, niece, nephew or friend who is travelling abroad and has either been mugged, arrested or hurt in some way. They need money right away and don’t want their parents told. Social media enables the scammer to throw in a fact which they learned online to add credibility. Don’t believe them. Ask someone who would know whether the person whose identity has been assumed is really on a trip at the time. They are probably safe at home.
• Mystery shopping. Appealing to many people’s love for shopping, this perpetual scam is just a variation on the above fake check/overpayment ploy. Victims are “prepaid” and asked to wire some of the money back, supposedly to evaluate the wire service company along with some well-known stores. Visit the Mystery Shopping Providers Association website at www.mysteryshop.org for legitimate opportunities as well as information about identifying scams.
• Loan scam. Online loans that promise no credit check and easy terms but require an upfront fee for “insurance” or to “secure” the loan should be avoided. Lately consumers are reporting being harassed for not “paying back” loans that they never had to begin with. They rely on embarrassment by calling relatives or your workplace.
• Phishing scam. At the top of the list for phishing during the previous election year was a claim that “President Obama will pay your utility bills,” if you registered at an official-looking website. The goal was identity theft using your private information.
• Lottery scam. A “Jamaican phone lottery” caller claiming to represent the BBB or some other trusted group, has a huge prize for you if you will just pay a fee. Hang up.
• Identity theft scam. A Direct Message from a Twitter friend says that you are in a Facebook video. Click the link and you are told to update your video player to see it. The link is actually to a virus or malware.
• Home improvement scam. Following Superstorm Sandy, many reports of scammers posing as contractors came in to BBB. Some were unlicensed, uninsured or simply took money without doing work. Always check on contractors at www.bbb.org/search.
• Sales scam. Counterfeit sports team merchandise and fake tickets from the Super Bowl, World Series and London Olympics abounded during 2012. Don’t rip off your favorite team by buying shoddy, fake goods.
• Scam of the year: Newtown charity scams. Authorities are investigating several potentially fraudulent and misleading solicitations for money, including a woman who falsely claimed to be a victim’s aunt. Scammers rely on emotional tragedies like this one to steal from the unsuspecting. Be sure you are giving to a legitimate charity when you are moved to do so. For the unmitigated audacity of these scammers, BBB considers this the “Top scam of 2012.”
Visit the BBB’s Scamstopper site at http://www.bbb.org/scam-stopper/ to learn about new scams as soon as they are found out. Contact the Kansas Better Business Bureau with concerns or questions by calling 800-856-2417 or visiting the website, www.kansasplains.bbb.org.