AUSTIN, Texas – Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to new twists on old schemes. Some scams quickly fizzle out, while others plague consumers year-round. In alphabetical order, here are 10 of the most prevalent scams of 2011:
Check Cashing Scam
Selling items online turned into several scams in 2011. After posting an ad, you are contacted by someone inquiring about your item. They send you a check for more than the amount they owe you, and then ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via Western Union. The money you wired is gone instantly and the deposited check bounces after a couple of days, leaving you scammed out of the money you wired.
Door-to-Door Magazine Scam
Companies that sell magazines primarily door-to-door are always near the top of BBB complaint data. Last year, many consumers complained they never received a single magazine after purchasing a discounted subscription promised by a sales person. When consumers called to request a refund, many companies did not answer.
Facebook Viral Videos Scam
With so much information shared online, it is easy for scammers to pretend to know potential victims. Viral videos claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden’s death to the latest celebrity scandals were popular scams perpetrated by hackers, often times appearing to come from a “friend.” Once the link was clicked, malicious software was downloaded to your computer, which then hacked into your social media account and would send similar messages to your friends. So, the next time you see a sensational headline for the latest viral video, resist the urge to peek or go to an authorized news source.
Hotel Identity Theft Scam
Consumers complained they received a call in their hotel room in the middle of the night from the “front desk clerk” asking for his or her credit card number because his or her computer had crashed. Scammers counted on sleepy consumers not catching on that the call was not from the hotel at all, but from someone outside who knew the direct-dial numbers for the guest rooms. By the time morning rolled around, consumers found their credit card had been on a shopping spree. This scam was so prevalent that many hotels are now posting warnings in their lobby.
Mark Zuckerberg Sweepstakes Scam
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in many forms, but the bottom line is almost always this: You’ve won a large sum of money, and in order to claim it you have to send in a smaller amount of money. This year’s top sweepstakes scam was an email claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing the recipient won $1 million from the popular social networking site. These kinds of scams often use celebrities or other famous names to make their offer seem more genuine. If you are not sure, don’t click on the link, but instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned.
Mortgage Relief Scam
Because the federal government announced several mortgage relief programs this year, many sound-alike websites popped up attempting to fool consumers into parting with their money to save their home. Some sounded like a government agency, or even part of a consumer organization. Most asked for an upfront fee and almost all left you in more debt than when you started.
National Automated Clearing House Association Scam
Phishing usually occurs when you receive an email that baits you into giving personal information or downloads a virus to your computer if you click an embedded link. A particularly malicious phishing scam last year disguised itself as official communication from the National Automated Clearing House Association, which facilitates the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions every year. The email claimed one of your transactions did not go through in the hopes you would react quickly and click on the link before thinking it through.
Online Job Scam
The worst job-related scam of 2011 involved the online job application process. Job hunters received emails, visited websites and filled out online applications that all looked very professional. Candidates were even interviewed (usually over the phone). Once offered the job, the candidate was asked to fill out a “credit report” or provide bank information to set up direct deposit. The online forms provided were nothing more than a way to capture sensitive personal data – Social Security number, bank account information, etc. – that could easily be used for identity theft. And, of course, there was no job.
Red Light Scam
Many consumers were caught off guard when scammers impersonating Texas Department of Public Safety officials called demanding immediate payment on a red-light safety camera ticket. The caller threatened to issue an arrest warrant unless the victim settled his or her outstanding debt. While DPS does encourage all violators to responsibly handle their citations, it does not collect traffic fines or oversee red-light cameras.
Trade Show Scam
Consumers are not the only ones victimized by scams. Last year, several businesses were conned by organizers of trade shows or festivals that did not exist. The businesses paid up front for booth space with the promise of reaching thousands of potential customers, only to have the event be moved to an undetermined future date or canceled completely. Usually the contract contained a firm no refund policy.
To check the reliability of a company and find trustworthy businesses, visit bbb.org.