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Top 10 Better Business Bureau Scams of 2012

Scamsters use Unconventional Methods to Dupe Innocent Victims

The Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, and this past year launched two websites to help consumers figure out which offers are real and which ones are possibly frauds:

BBB Smart Investing (www.bbb.org/smart investing), informs consumers about investment Fraud, Ponzi schemes and risky investments, and helps them assess their risk, check out brokers, and avoid getting taken.

BBB Scam Stopper (www.bbb.org/scamstopper), educates consumers about the major types of scams and provides information on how to avoid them and how to report them.

The key to avoid being scammed is ask others what they would do and try to find out if the “offers” are scams by using the BBB and other resources such as the FBI. Here are BBB’s Top Ten Scams of 2012:

1. Top Overpayment/Fake Check Scam: Car Ads. The online ad says something like “Get Paid Just for Driving Around” - a prominent company is offering $400+ per week if you will drive around with their logo all over your car. They send a check to you, which you are supposed to deposit in your account and then wire part of the payment to the graphic designer who will customize the ad for your vehicle. A week later, the check bounces, the graphic designer is nowhere to be found, and you are out the money you wired.

2. Top Emergency Scam: Grandparents Scam. A grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/emails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money right away (“…and please don’t tell mom and dad!”). Before you wire money in an emergency, check with the supposed victim or their family members to make sure they really are traveling.

3. Top Employment Scam: Mystery Shopping. If you love to shop, working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement your income. But scammers have figured that out too, and many job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam (above).

4. Top Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam: Nonexistent Loans. Most of the scams advertise online and promise things like no credit check or easy repayment terms. But, you have to make the first payment upfront, you have to buy an “insurance policy,” or there is some other kind of fee that you have to pay first to “secure” the loan.

5. Top Phishing Scam: President Obama Will Pay Your Utility Bills. Of all the politically-related scams, this one seemed to be the most prevalent. At the peak of summer with utility costs soaring, consumers got emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a “new government program” to pay your utility bills.

6. Top Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican Phone Lottery. A call comes from Jamaica (area code 876) but the person claims to represent BBB/ FBI/ or other trusted group. You’re told you have won a terrific prize (i.e., $2 million or a Mercedes Benz) but you have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings.

7. Top Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook Tweets. You get a Direct Message from a friend on Twitter with something about a video of you on Facebook. In a panic, you click on the link to see what the embarrassing video could possibly be, and you get an error message that says you need to update Flash or other video player. But the file is not a new version of Flash; it is a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone.

8. Top Home Improvement Scam: Sandy “Storm Chasers.” Services such as tree removal, roofing, general home repairs related to Sandy come from unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared contractors for the work. Some take your money, never do the work, and then disappear.  In an emergency, it is tempting to skip reference checking, but that is never a good idea.

9. Top Sales/Rental Scam: Real Stars, Fake Goods. From tickets to the Super Bowl to the World Series, counterfeit goods are not only a rip-off for you because the merchandise is usually shoddy, but they are also a rip-off for the teams, athletes, designers and artists who create, license and sell the real thing.

10. Scam of the Year: Newtown Charity Scams. Within hours of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., social media pages dedicated to the child victims began cropping up…and some of them were scams asking for money. The FBI has already arrested one woman for posing as the aunt of one of the children killed, and state and federal agencies are investigating other possible fraudulent and misleading solicitations.

I never cease to be amazed how some people won’t hesitate to take advantage of others who might find themselves in an emergency situation or make up such a story. Unfortunately, we have a pursuit of self-interests society where the main goal in life of scamsters is to get rich as quickly as possible even if it means lying, deceiving, using other people, and just being jerks. My advice is never go along with the kinds of solicitations mentioned in this blog unless you have done some research to determine its validity. Give it the “smell” test. If its sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Remember, there is no free lunch.

Blog posted by Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 17, 2013