From the Better Business Bureau of Central East Texas:
Arlington,VA (February 11, 2014)– Every year, Better Business Bureaureceives thousands of calls and emails from consumers who have been scammed… orfrom the lucky ones who have dodged scams by being wary. Some scams arewidespread, getting a lot of people for small amounts. Others are more narrowlyfocused, but take people for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. TheFederal Trade Commission's ConsumerSentinel Data Book estimates that Americans lost $1.4 billion to scamsin 2012.
The Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrellaorganization for the 113 local BBBs across the U.S. and Canada, culls itsannual "TopTen Scams" list from a variety of sources, including reports from consumers, someof whom have been victims of scams; from federal agencies; and from otherreliable information sources.
"Theseare not necessarily the scams with the biggest losses, or those with the mostvictims, as many people don't report scams or even know they've been victimized,"said Katherine Hutt, CBBB spokesperson. "These are the scams that seemed to bethe most widespread, aimed at the most vulnerable, growing in popularity, orjust plain audacious. Scams are every-changing, but we want to help peoplerecognize them and be prepared the next time they get a suspicious call, email,text or solicitation."
BBB Top Ten Scams of 2013
Medical Alert Scam – A new twist to the telemarketing scamhit 2013 hard. With promises of a "free" medical alert system, the scamtargeted seniors and caretakers and claimed to be offering the system free ofcharge because a family member or friend had already paid for it. In manycases, seniors were asked to provide their bank account or credit informationto "verify" their identity and, as a result, were charged the monthly $35service fee. The system, of course, never arrived and the seniors were leftwith a charge they had trouble getting refunded. Easy rule of thumb – be waryof "free" offers that require your personal information upfront and alwaysverify with the supposed friend or family member that the caller says paid forthe service.
Auction Reseller Scam– Many peopleturn to Ebay and other online auctions sites to sell used items they no longerneed, and relatively new electronics seem to do especially well. But scammershave figured out a way to fool sellers into shipping goods without receivingpayment. Usually the buyer claims it's an "emergency" of some sort – a child'sbirthday, a member of the military shipping out – and asks the seller to shipthe same day. The seller receives an email that looks like it's from PayPalconfirming the payment, but emails are easy to fake. Always confirm payment inyour Ebay and PayPal accounts before shipping, especially to an overseasaddress.
Arrest Warrant Scam – This one seemed to really take offlast autumn. In this scam, con artists are taking advantage of technology thatcan change what is visible on Caller ID, and allowing them to pose as theoffice of the local sheriff or other law enforcement agency. They call to saythere is a warrant out for your arrest, but that you can pay a fine in order toavoid criminal charges. Of course, these "police" don't take creditcards; only a wire transfer or pre-paid debit card will do. Sometimesthese scams seem very personal; the scammer may refer to a loan or otherfinancial matter. It may just be a lucky guess, but don't be fooled intothinking you are about to be arrested.
Invisible Home Improvements – Home improvement scams vary littlefrom year to year, and most involve some type of shoddy workmanship fromunlicensed or untrained workers. The hardest for homeowners to detect, andtherefore the easiest for scammers to pull off, are repairs or improvements tothe areas of your home that you can't see: roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawlspaces, etc. Scammers may simply knock at your door offering a great dealbecause they were "in the neighborhood," but more and more they are usingtelemarketing, email and even social media to reach homeowners. Helpful videoson YouTube can add legitimacy to a contractor, but consumers have no way ofknowing if the video is real or "borrowed" from a legitimate contractor. Check outhome contractors at bbb.orgbefore saying yes.
Casting Call Scam – This is not as widespread as someother scams, but it seems to have really been on the increase in recent years,thanks to the popularity of television talent shows like "American Idol" and"Project Runway." Scammers pose as agents or talent scouts looking for actors,singers, models, reality show contestants, etc., and use phony audition noticesto fool aspiring performersinto paying to try out for parts that don't exist. There are several waysthis plays out. It can simply be an unscrupulous way to sell acting lessons,photography services, etc., or it can be an outright scam for things like feesfor online "applications" or upcoming "casting calls." Even worse, theinformation provided on an online application could be everything a scammerneeds for identity theft.
Foreign Currency Scam – Investments in foreigncurrency can sound like a great idea, and scammers frequently use real currentevents and news stories to make their pitches even more appealing. Theyadvertise an easy investment with highreturn and low risk when you purchase Iraqi Dinar, Vietnamese Dong or, mostrecently, the Egyptian Pound. The plan is that, when those governments revaluetheir currencies, increasing their worth against the dollar, you just sell andcash in. Unlike previous hoaxes, you may even take possession of real currency.The problem is that they will be very difficult to sell, and it's extremelyunlikely they will ever significantly increase in value.
Scam Texts – With online and mobilebanking skyrocketing, it's not a surprise that scams quickly follow. One majortactic recently is the use of scam texts, known as "smishing," to stealpersonal information. They look like a text alert from your bank, asking you toconfirm information or "reactivate your debit card" by following a link on yoursmart phone. Banks of all sizeshave been targeted, and details of the scam vary, but the outcome is the same:scammers get your banking information, maybe even your ATM number and PIN. Youmay even inadvertently download malicious software that gives the scammeraccess to anything on your phone.
Do Not Call Scams – The National Do Not CallRegistry (U.S.) or the National Do Not Call List (Canada) offerconsumers a free way to reduce telemarketing calls. Scammers call anyway, ofcourse, and they've even found a way to scam consumers by pretending to be agovernment official calling to sign you up or confirming your previous participationon the Do Not call list! In one variation, scammers ask for personalinformation, such as your name, address and Social Security/Social Insurancenumber. In another, scammers try to charge a fee to join the registry. Eitherway, just hang up. These services are free, but sharing personal informationwith a scammer could cost you a lot.
Fake Friend Scam – Did you ever get a Friend Request onFacebook from someone you already thought was your Friend? If you hit Accept,you may have just friended a scammer. A popular recent scam has been the theftof people's online identities to create fake profiles, which can be used in avariety of ways. A new Friend can learn a lot about you to scam you later,"recommend" sketchy websites that download malware, use your account to scrapinformation on your other Friends, even impersonate a military officer or othertrustworthy person to perpetrate a romance scam. Be careful on social media,keep your privacy settings high, and don't share confidential information. Youcan't always be sure that your Friends are really your friends.
Scam of the Year: AffordableCare Act Scam
Scammershad a field day with the Affordable Care Act ("Obamacare"), using it asa way to fool Americans into sharing their personal information. Scammerswould call claiming to be from the federal government and saying the would-bevictim needed a new insurance card or Medicare card. However, before they canmail the card, they need to collect personal information. Scammers do a lot tomake their requests seem credible. For example, they may have your bank'srouting number and ask you to provide your account number. Or, they may ask foryour credit card or Social Security number, Medicare ID, or other personalinformation. But sharing personal information with a scammer puts you at riskfor identity theft.
Moreinformation for consumers: