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Top 10 Scams of 2015
Overpayment/Fake check scam:Ads on cars
The typical online ad says, "Get Paid Just for Driving Around"--naming a prominent company that offers $400+ per week to drive around with its logo all over your car. The scammers send a check to be deposited, requiring tht part of the money be wired as payment for 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 wired.
Emergency Scam: Grandparent Scam
Employment Scam: Mystery Shopping
The "Grandparent Scam" has been around awhile, but it's still prevalent. Grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/e-mails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money right away. You send money only to find out the real person is safe at home. The FBI says that thanks to social media, it's becoming easier for scammers to tell a more plausible story, as they use real facts from the supposed victim'slife shared on social media ("Remember that great camera I got for Christmas?""I'm in France to visit my old college roomate."). Before you wire money, check with the supposed victim or their family to make sure they are really traveling. Odds are they are safe at home.
Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam: Non-existent Loans
For those who love to shop, working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement income. Taking advantage of its popularity, scammers offer secret-shopper jobs that are a variation on the overpayment/fake-check scam. Sometimes, they even include the evaluation of the wire company as part of the job, telling consumers to send back part of the money. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says it's not the practice of its members to prepay shoppers, but if you have your heart set on this type of job, you can find legitimate offers at www.mysteryshop.org
Loan scams continued to fester in 2012. Most scams advertise online and promise things like "no credit check" or "easy repayment terms." The hook: You have to make the first payment up front, buy an "insurance policy" or pay a fee to "secure" the loan. A new, aggressive twist on loan scams involves consumers being threatened with lawsuits and law-enforcement action if they don't "pay back" loans they have never taken out in the first place. Some receive calls at their place of work, even to relatives. the embarrassment of being thought of as a delinquent causes some to pay even when they don't owe money.
Phishing Scam: President Obama will pay your utility bills
Of all the politically related scams, the scam stating President Barack Obama would pay consumers' utility bills seemed the most prevalent. At the peak of summer, with utility costs soaring, consumers received e-mails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a "new government program" to pay their utility bills. Victims "registered" at an official-looking website and provided enough personal and financial information for scammers to steal their identities.
Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican phone lottery
Credit Card Skimmers
Although credit card skimming has been around for a while as a proven method for stealing credit card information, it is becoming more wide spread because anyone can now buy a skimmer for $40 on Amazon. Card skimming devices are placed on ATMs or point-of-sale terminals at gas stations waiting for victims.
We have long been warned to examine the card reader on the machine to look for anything out of the ordinary – a loose fitting, or an odd color. But some of these skimming devices are very authentic looking, and now thieves are placing a PIN-snatching overlay over the keyboard to capture PIN numbers. Even without that, thieves can watch you PIN entry from a nearby camera. The bigger threat may be the handheld skimmers. Anytime your credit card is out of your sight, it takes just a few seconds to swipe the card and capture your PII.
The best defense is to be overly vigilant. Don’t use ATMs in remote locations. At point-of-sale terminals use your cards that contain an EMV chip as they are harder to skim.
Phishing, Spoofing and Smishing
Phishing is another form of ID theft that has been around for a while, and thought to be outdated due to the improvements in spam technology. However, the phishing fraudsters have been successful in staying a step ahead of security technology by upgrading the quality of their attacks. Phishing emails, which are designed to lure a person into providing sensitive account information or a Social Security number, are looking more authentic, and are better at avoiding spam detection.
Spoofing can occur in a couple of ways – on your cell phone or computer. Spoofing is when someone masquerades as someone or something in order to gather sensitive information. On your cell phone, it could happen when your caller ID shows an unfamiliar number, or a number that looks to be legitimate. The person on the other line claims to be from your bank or brokerage firm requesting account update information.
It can also occur on your computer when a scammer sets up a fraudulent website to obtain information or install a virus. The website masquerades as a bank or a retail store, asking for log in information as any legitimate website does. However, when you log in, the scammer can use your information to log into the real website and access your account.
Smishing is similar to phishing except it uses cell phone text messages as the lure. In most cases, the text return address is a URL or phone number. The message usually asks for your prompt response. If you don’t recognize the phone number or URL address, do not respond.
Whether its card skimming, phishing, spoofing or smishing, the objective of the thief is the same: To trick you out of your personal identification information. The only defense is your vigilance and your strict adherence to the cardinal rule of identity theft protection – Under no circumstances should you ever provide sensitive information, including a credit card number or an account number, over the phone or through an email, unless you can absolutely verify the legitimacy of the caller. There is absolutely no reason to give your full Social Security number over the phone or through an email.
In this scam, the calls come from area code 876 in Jamaica, but the person claims to represent the BBB, the FBI or another trusted agency. The caller says you have won a terrific prize, which typically is $2 million and a Mercedes Benz. The catch? You have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings. There are many variations of this scam, sometimes offering a government grant. Consumers areencouraged to hang up and file a phone-fraud report with the appropriate government agency.
Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook tweets
Two top social-media sites were exploited in one of this year's top scams. You get a direct message from a friend on Twitter with something about a video of you on Facebook ("What RU doing in this FB vid?" is a typical tweet). In a panic, you click on the link to see what the video could possibly be, but you get an error message that states you need to update Flash or another video player. However, the file isn't a new version of Flash; it's a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smartphone. Twitter recommends reporting such spam, resetting your password and revoking connections to third-party applications.
Home Improvement Scam: Sandy "storm chasers"
Sales Scam: Real stars: fake goods
The BBB spends a lot of time investigating and reporting home-improvement scams, but this year saw an unusual amount of "storm chaser" activity following superstorm Sandy. Some legitimate contractors came from other areas to supplement the the volume of work available, while others were unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared for the work; some were even out-and-out scam artists who took money and never did any work. In an emergency, it's tempting to skip reference checking, but that's when it might be needed the most. The BBB reminds consumers that tens of thousands of accredited businesses in the home-contracting field are available and committed to upholding its standards of trust. Next time you need home repairs, find a contractor at www.searchbbb.org
Sports memorabilia and phony tickets always make the list of top counterfeit goods. From the Super Bowl to the World Series, counterfeiters manage to keep their hands in your pockets all year long. With the London Olympics added to the mix, it appears 2012 was a good year for sports fakes. Some scammers sold cheap knockoffs in front of stadiums; others set up websites and stole money, never having any goods to begin with. Counterfeit goods arenot only a rip-off because the merchandise is usually shoddy but are also a rip-off for the teams, athletes, designers and artists who create, license and sell the real items. Buy directly from team stores, websites and legitimate retailers. You'll pay a little more, but it will be the real deal. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
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 victims began cropping up...and some were scams asking for money. The FBI 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. In response to these reports, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offers tips for donors to understand how and when to best support those dealing with such a tragic crisis. Although the number of people defrauded and the total dollars stolen are most likely low, the cynicism and sheer audacity of these scams merits listing in the top ten scams of 2012.