The Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, from the latest gimmicks to schemes as old as the hills. Here are the top five scams for 2011:
The BBB sees lots of secret shopper schemes, work-from-home scams, and other phony job offers, but the worst job-related scam can dash your hopes and steal your identity. E-mails, websites and online applications all look very professional, and the candidate is even interviewed for the job (usually over the phone) and then receives an offer. In order to start the job, however, the candidate has to fill out a “credit report” or provide bank information for direct deposit of their “paychecks.” The online forms are nothing more than a way to capture sensitive personal data that can easily be used for identity theft.
Sweepstakes, lottery scam
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Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is almost always this: You’ve won a whole lot of money, and in order to claim it you have to send us a smaller amount of money. Oh, and keep this confidential until we’re ready to announce your big winnings. This year’s top sweepstakes scam was undoubtedly the e-mail claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the recipient was the winner of $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.
Social media/online dating scam
On the Internet, it’s easy to pretend to be someone you are not. Are you really friends with all of your “friends” on Facebook? Do you have a lot of personal information on a dating site? With so much information about us online, a scammer can sound like they know you. There are tons of ways to use social media for scams, but one this year really stands out because it appeals to our natural curiosity ... and it sounds like it’s coming from a friend. Viral videos claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden’s death to the latest celebrity hijinks have shown up on social media sites, often looking as if they have been shared by a friend. When you click on the link, you are prompted to “upgrade your Flash player,” but the file you end up downloading contains a worm that logs into your social media account, sends similar messages to your friends, and searches for your personal data.
Home improvement scam
Always near the top of BBB complaint data are home improvement contractors who often leave your home worse than they found it. They usually knock on your door with a story or a deal -- the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on your roof, the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give you a great deal on driveway resealing. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law and angry consumers. The worst are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help and may not be as suspicious as they would be under normal circumstances.
Check cashing scam
Two legitimate companies -- Craigslist and Western Union -- are used for an inordinate amount of scamming these days, and especially check-cashing scams. Here’s how it works: Someone contacts you via a Craigslist posting, maybe for a legitimate reason like buying your old couch or perhaps through a scam like hiring you as a secret shopper. They send you a check for more than the amount they owe you, and they ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via Western Union. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia & the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the central Savannah River area. Questions or complaints should be referred directly to the BBB: by phone at (800) 763-4222, website www.bbb.org or e-mail email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org..