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Top Scams and Rip Offs of 2010

As the American economy climbs out of recession, the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds you that scammers still want to knock people back into their own personal recessions by stealing their money or their identities.

"Every day, the BBB receives calls from consumers wondering if a check they received is real or wanting to know if a job or mystery shopper offer is legitimate," said Chris Coleman, BBB president and CEO. "Our customer relations specialists are trained to help consumers spot scams and to provide information on legitimate businesses, in addition to taking complaints," Coleman said. "We encourage consumers to check with us before doing business with a company or charity."

The BBB list of top scams and rip-offs is by no means exhaustive. Some schemes are old and familiar. Some of these you will note have a common thread with the 10 resolutions in the Scam Alert article of this newsletter. Others are new – or appear to be so because they refer to events or people in the news. All are attempts to trick consumers into handing over their money or giving up information that can be used to commit fraud. They are in alphabetical order.

  • Advance Fee Loans: Websites offer credit-challenged borrowers personal loans. The lenders require fees to be wired in advance to receive the loan. Once the money is wired, borrowers do not get the loan.
  • Auto Service Contracts: Consumers may receive postcards or phone calls implying that their warranties are about to expire and offering to ease their worries about car repair bills by buying an "extended warranty." Many consumers then find it extremely difficult to obtain money for any repairs.
  • Door-to-Door Sales: Salespeople for magazine subscriptions, burglar alarms, home repairs, vacuum cleaners and other items use high-pressure sales tactics to obtain payment for items or services that never arrive or that fail to meet customers' expectations.
  • "Free" Offers: Consumers are encouraged to order a product such as teeth-whiteners, acai anti-aging pills or other products, which may be endorsed by a television personality. After they get the product, they discover that they've been signed up to receive additional products for a monthly fee that can be hundreds of dollars. It can be extremely difficult to get refunds or stop the fees.
  • Friend/Family in Distress: Also known as the grandparent scam. The victim receives a message from a "friend" or "family member" claiming they are outside the country and have gotten into trouble. The victim is asked to wire thousands of dollars to pay lawyer's fees or to post bail.
  • Lottery and Fake Check Scams: Victims receive letters in the mail from companies purporting to be from a foreign lottery, Publisher's Clearing House or another well-known company or charity. Often, the letter includes an authentic-looking check. In most cases, victims are asked to wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers - supposedly to cover taxes or other bogus fees.
  • Job Hunter Scams: One scam asks job seekers to pay fees to be considered for a job; others schedule an out-of-town interview and ask the applicant to send the money to cover an airline ticket. Other scams attempt to gain access to personal information such as bank account or Social Security numbers, under the guise of somehow evaluating a potential employee.
  • Mystery Shopping: Consumers may be told they will be paid to shop at a store and evaluate its customer service. Victims may receive authentic-looking checks that are supposed to cover the cost of shopping. They are asked to wire money back to the scammers to evaluate a money wiring service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. The checks are fake, and victims incur a loss and bank fees.
  • Phishing E-mails: Phishing e-mails from fraudsters masquerading as government agencies or delivery companies pop up in inboxes everywhere. Whatever the setup, the goal of any phishing e-mail is the same: to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim's computer with viruses and malware.
  • Work-At-Home Schemes: Websites claim that people can make a living from home using Google or Twitter or by buying a kit that includes educational materials or products to sell. Many of these turn out to be free trial offer scams, with victims being billed every month for materials or other mystery charges. Legitimate employers do not ask employees to make an investment up front.