BBB’s TOP 10 SCAMS FOR 2012
A review of BBB Serving Central East Texas’ 2012 Scam Alert archive shows that scammers have had a busy year. Targeting the most vulnerable citizens and using even more sophisticated tools and methods than last year; many have been able to easily elude law enforcement, sometimes even making off with their victims’ life savings.
“Clever marketers, scammers continue to add new twists to the old tried-and-true scams”, said Mechele Agbayani Mills, President and CEO of BBB Serving Central East Texas. “Consumers need to be extra cautious as these criminals continue to become more and more creative.”
- Brand Spoofing:Brand spoofing (aka phishing) is a general term for e-mail, text messages and websites fabricated and sent by criminals and designed to look like they come from well-known and trusted businesses, financial institutions and government agencies in an attempt to collect personal, financial and sensitive information. If the recipient follows the link provided and connects with the fraudulent website, any information entered into the data fields (account #, PIN, contact information, social insurance number etc.) could be recorded, collected and used for fraudulent purposes. Additionally, some variants of phishing scams make use of Trojan horses to infect recipient computers with malware.
- Advance Fee Loans: Consumers have reported losing substantial sums of money responding to advertisements that “guarantee” loans to people, often online. Consumers complete credit applications and are told the loan (from $5,000 to $100,000) has been approved and the promised funds will be received once a fee is paid. After payment, the loan is never received as promised.
- Gold Buying Schemes: When the BBB was created in 1912, the average price of gold was $18.93 per ounce (and it had been so for about 100 years before). In 2012, the price of gold soared, rapidly fluctuating and averaging over $1766 per ounce. Similar to gold rushes of the past, a strained economy and high demand for gold resulted in many consumers selling, trading and receiving unfair returns when cashing in their gold and jewelry.
- Financial Elder Abuse: Financial elder abuse occurs when seniors’ pocketbooks are exploited by scammers who take advantage of a person’s vulnerabilities associated with age (hearing loss, loneliness, physical limitations and impaired mental capacity). Common financial elder abuse frauds include tricking seniors into giving out private banking information; encouraging unnecessary home repair work, telemarketing and mail fraud; and swindles by family or friends that result in seniors giving up money, property, personal information and decision-making capacity.
- Vacation Offers: Still prevalent are the amount of vacation, cruise or timeshare marketers who attempt to manipulate a potential vacationer into considering an offer for a deeply discounted, free or “prize” vacation package. Cases include instances of deception in timeshare reselling, vacation certificate telemarketing, travel agent "credential mills", and vacation clubs using high pressure sales tactics to convince potential vacationers into spending thousands of dollars on a membership package.
- Work at Home: Rising unemployment this year has prompted many people to grasp at work-at-home with hopes of producing income. One of the most popular scams is to require the job seeker to pay a fee in order 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.
- Foreign Lottery/Sweepstakes: Scammers used false information to convince consumers they had won millions of dollars in a non-existent lottery or sweepstakes. In most cases, victims were required to wire hundreds or thousands of dollars back to the scammers - supposedly to cover taxes or other bogus fees. Often times the scammers posed as legitimate organizations by hijacking their logos and/or hacking into caller ID to make it appear calls were coming from legitimate organizations.
- Payday Loans: Advance fee loan brokers are near the top of the Council of BBBs' list of most-asked-about businesses. Callers requesting information on these questionable promotions placed more than 80,000 calls to BBBs nationwide. Consumers and small businesses continue to lose large sums of money to fraudulent advanced-fee loan brokers. These so-called loan brokers advertise in the newspaper classifieds hoping to attract financially vulnerable consumers or business owners with the promise of guaranteed, low-interest loans to consolidate or pay off debts and clean-up credit records.
- Anti-Social Network: Social networks like Facebook and Twitter are becoming more and more popular. Users are often subject to targeted advertising and direct messages, and scams of all kinds use social networks to operate.
- Itinerant/Door-to-Door Workers:These fly by night companies offer to do the job with leftover materials from a previous job, use high pressure tactics, and trick consumers into thinking they offer a discount price. They have no physical location in the area and use poor quality materials. They do not pay local taxes and take discretionary income that could be better spent on local businesses.
BBB advises consumers to be mindful of these scams as we move into 2013 and to remember that “if it seems too good to be true, it probably is.” The BBB's best advice is to check out all solicitations before doing business with anyone.
For more advice on staying safe in 2013, and to see reports on thousands businesses, go to www.bbb.org. To report a fraud or scam, please call the BBB Hotline: (903) 581-8373.