SACRAMENTO, Ca., Jan. 15, 2013 – Better Business Bureau
serving northeast California gathered information from consumers, federal agencies and internally to cultivate a list of the top scams of 2012.
While some scams are fairly new as scammers learn to take advantage of new technologies, others have been around for years continually victimizing new consumers.
“Our list highlights the scams that are the newest or most outrageous,” said Gary Almond, president of BBB serving northeast California. “While consumers seem to be getting savvier, these scams only become more prevalent with the advent of new technologies.”
BBB’s top ten scams of 2012 are:
Top Overpayment/Fake Check Scam: Car Ads
A prominent company is offering $400+ per week to consumers willing to drive around with logos plastered to their cars. They send a check to the consumer and ask the consumer to wire a portion of that “check” to a graphic designer to customize the car. One week later, the check bounces, the graphic designer is nowhere to be found, and the money wired is gone.
Top Emergency Scam: Grandparents Scam
The “Grandparents Scam” has been around a while, but deserves mentioning again: grandchild/niece /friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/emails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money right away. Before wiring money in an emergency, check with the supposed victim or family members to make sure the relative is really traveling.
Working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement income, but scammers have figured that out, too. Many job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam (above). Sometimes they claim that evaluating the wire service company is part of the job, which is why the consumer needs to send back part of the money. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says it is not the practice of their members to pre-pay shoppers. Those looking for legitimate opportunities can find a gig through www.mysteryshop.org.
Loan scams continued to fester in 2012. Most of the scams advertise online and promise things like no credit check or easy repayment terms. The hook: 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. In the end, the consumer ends up with nothing but an empty wallet.
At the peak of summer with utility costs soaring, consumers received emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a “new government program” to pay utility bills. Victims “registered” with a website and provided everything scammers needed for ID theft, including bank account information.
Top Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican Phone Lottery
The calls come from area code 876 but the person claims to represent BBB, FBI, or other trusted group. Great news: you won a terrific prize, but must pay a fee to collect the winnings. After wiring money to “collect” the prize, consumers never hear from the scammers again.
Top Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook Tweets
“ROFL they was taping you” or “What RU doing in this FB vid?” are typical tweets. In a panic, you click on the link and get an error message that says you need to update your video player. It’s a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone. Twitter recommends reporting spam, resetting your password and revoking connections to third-party applications.
Top Home Improvement Scam: Sandy “Storm Chasers”
BBB spends a lot of time investigating and reporting on home improvement scams, but this year we saw an unusual amount of “storm chaser” activity following Super Storm Sandy. It’s tempting to skip reference checking in an emergency, but that’s never a good idea. Always check a company’s licensing before hiring and search for them at necal.bbb.org.
From the Super Bowl to the World Series
, counterfeiters managed to have their hands in consumers’ pockets all year long. Some scammers sold cheap knock-offs in front of stadiums. Others set up websites that never had any goods for sale to begin with. Counterfeit goods are not only a rip-off for fans, but also rip-off the teams, athletes, designers and artists who create, license and sell the real merchandise. Buy directly from teams or from legitimate retailers. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
Within hours of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, social media pages dedicated to the child victims began cropping up. 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. Although the number of people defrauded and the total dollars stolen is most likely low, the cynicism and sheer audacity of these scams merits our selecting it as the “Top Scam of 2012.”
As a business-supported nonprofit organization, Better Business Bureau's mission is to promote an ethical marketplace. BBB sets standards for ethical business behavior, helps consumer identify reliable businesses through BBB Business Reviews, sets standards for truthful advertising, evaluates and provides reviews of charities, educates consumers, and offers dispute resolution services. More than 87 million consumers rely on BBB for Business Reviews, consumer tips and scam alerts. To learn more, please visit www.necal.bbb.org.