Scammers kept busy in 2013, plying their unsavory trade in the usual nasty ways, the Better Business Bureau reported.
But, as always, they picked up a new trick or two with which to defraud people. Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) reported it created a top 10 list of the biggest schemes of last year in an effort to help others avoid falling victim.
“Fraudsters are dependable; when they discover something that works, they stick with it,” said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota in a news release. “But they’re also crafty. They find ways to put new spins on old scams and by doing so, keep people off-balance.”
Though the list of scams reported to BBB and monitored by its staffers is long, these are the Top 10 scams in terms of their overall reach.
1. Ransomware — When a computer user clicks on bad links or attachments in emails, their computer files are encrypted and scammers demand a ransom to get them unlocked. If this happens, contact a computer expert — but research them first at bbb.org, the BBB recommends.
Always be wary of emails from unknown senders and never open or download attachments unless it is known they are safe.
2. Utility schemes — Consumers receive calls saying their power will be shut off unless a payment is made immediately, usually via Green Dot MoneyPaks. Questions about energy bill should be directed to the utility company directly.
3. Housing rental scams — People find a rental at an unbelievable rate on sites such as craigslist, but discover, after wiring the security deposit or first month’s rent away, the ad they saw was a phony cribbed from a real listing.
4. Sweepstakes/lottery scams — A notice saying a huge cash prize has been won arrives through the mail, email or via a phone call. The offer states all the “winner” has to do is pay taxes, insurance or fees and the “prize” will be theirs. However, if the winner has to pay anything to claim the winnings, the BBB reports they haven’t won anything.
5. Bogus collection calls — The phone rings and people are told they owe money and unless they make an immediate payment, they’ll be arrested. Though this sounds scary, legitimate debt collectors cannot make threats like this. Don’t be pressured. Always make sure you know who you’re dealing with and that alleged debts are valid.
6. Pet Scams — People find websites claiming to offer purebred puppies for free. However, they’re told transfer fees have to be wired to release the puppy or payment has to be made to a third-party shipper. Be leery of situations like this and be aware that pet scams are common online, with many of them originating from overseas.
7. Mystery Shopping offers — People receive mailed solicitations, accompanied by sizable checks, to become mystery shoppers. Though the checks look legitimate, they’re bogus. Consumers should be aware that legitimate mystery shopping firms don’t operate in this manner.
8. Phishing scams — Scammers attempt to obtain personal financial information from people through emails claiming to be from trusted senders, such as banks or major retailers. However, the emails contain attachments with viruses or links which can install malware on personal computers.
9. Tech Support Scam — A call comes out of the blue saying there’s a problem with a individual’s computer. A ‘helpful’ expert offers to help fix it and/or asks for credit card information. Don’t play along. Cooperating could give scammers access to the computer and/or sensitive financial information. When there’s a computer problem, call the expert directly, not the other way around.
10. Fake Overstock sites — In the past year, BBB reports it has shut down more than 100 fraudulent websites that illegally steal the BBB logo and imply they are legitimate sites. A noticeable trend recently is websites that include the word “overstock” in the domain name, hoping to fool consumers into thinking they are shopping with Overstock.com. Beware of web addresses that are longer than just “overstock.com” or use any additional words or letters. Any address other than “overstock.com” is not the correct website for the online retailer.