St. Louis, Mo., Dec. 28, 2009 – There’s been no recession for scam artists this year, according to the Better Business Bureau (BBB).
Some of the schemes are old and familiar. Others are new – or appear to be so because they refer to events or people in the news. But all are attempts to separate consumers from their money.
The BBB has compiled the following list of some of the year’s top scams, listed in alphabetical order:
- Advance Fee Loans: Companies offer to help borrowers refinance their loans for a fee, but do not deliver on promises. Legitimate companies do not charge a fee. Most will evaluate your situation and tell you whether you can qualify for refinancing.
- Door-to-Door Sales: Salespeople for magazine subscriptions, burglar alarms, vacuum cleaners and other items use high-pressure sales tactics to obtain payment for items that either never arrive or fail to meet customers’ expectations.
- Friend/Family in Distress: Also known as the Grandma Scam, the victim receives a message from a “friend” or “family member” claiming they are outside of 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.
- H1N1 Flu Scams: Consumers were contacted in a variety of ways in an effort to scare them into purchasing cures or information to prevent the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu.
- Lottery and Fake Check Scams: Victims receive letters in the mail from companies purporting to be Publisher’s Clearing House or another well-known company or charity. Often, the letter includes an authentic-looking check. Scammers use false information to convince consumers they have won millions of dollars in a lottery, which is non-existent. 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 even be considered for a job. 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.
- Memorabilia: With the election of President Barack Obama and the death of Michael Jackson, 2009 provided opportunities for scammers to sell collectibles commemorating these events. Unfortunately, most items were sold at inflated prices and had little more than sentimental value.
- Mystery Shopping: In some scams, consumers are told they will be paid to shop at a store and evaluate its customer service. In others, victims are sent authentic-looking checks that are supposed to cover the cost of doing business. They may be 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.
- Office Supply Sales: Telemarketers call businesses offering office supplies at a discount, often saying their company is relocating and must liquidate inventory. Some imply that a company officer already has authorized the order. Then the supplier sends inflated bills and many more supplies than a business ordered. Refunds are difficult to obtain.
- Phishing E-mails: Phishing e-mails appearing to be sent from all types of government agencies popped 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.
- Robocalls: Thousands of people across the country receive automated telephone calls claiming that their automobile warranty is about to expire or that a bank is offering to lower the interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the FTC to restrict the practice.
- Teeth-Whitening Offers: Consumers who thought they were signing up for a free trial of teeth-whitening products say they were repeatedly billed for products and services they didn’t want.
- Weight Loss Pill Free Trial Offers: Ads offering free trials of acai berry or resveratrol weight loss pills were all over the Internet. These ads were displayed on trusted Web sites of national news organizations, and the campaigns often claimed to be endorsed by celebrities such as Oprah Winfrey and Rachel Ray. As with other “free trial offers,” the BBB received thousands of complaints from consumers that these free trial offers ended up costing them money by automatically enrolling them in a program that charged monthly fees to their credit cards.
In many cases, consumers who were victimized by the scams could have protected themselves by taking time to check the business out with the BBB before they sent money or signed up for a free trial offer.
“The BBB answers calls daily from consumers wondering if a check they received in the mail is real or wanting to know if a job or mystery shopper offer is legitimate,” said Michelle L. Corey, president and CEO of the BBB in St. Louis. “Our customer relations specialists are trained to help consumers spot scams and provide information on legitimate businesses as well as taking complaints. We encourage consumers to check with us before doing business with a company.”
Consumers can check a business’s Reliability Report by calling (314) 645-3300 or by going online to www.bbb.org.
Contacts: Michelle Corey, President & CEO, 314-645-3300, email@example.com or Chris Thetford, Director of Communications, 314-645-3300, firstname.lastname@example.org