It’s a new year, but unfortunately scams that happen every day are not. With the help of consumers and the more than 30,000 scam reports they filed, the Better Business Bureau has compiled a list of the top scams of 2016. BBB scam tracker confirmed that the IRS/tax scam continues to be the top scam of the year.
The top three scams on the 2016 list — IRS/tax scam, debt collections scam and sweepstakes/prizes/gifts scam — ranked the same as in 2015. Credit card scams drop off the top 10, while online purchase scams and phishing scams are new to the list.
These were the top 10 scams of 2016:
▪ IRS/tax scam. Someone claiming to be with the Internal Revenue Service will call you and tell you that you owe money to the government, and if you don’t pay now you will be arrested. Scammers tell you to send them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer and many people pay out of fear. The BBB advises you to hang up. The IRS and other government agencies won’t call you to collect money or ask you to make a payment by a prepaid card or wire transfer.
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▪ Debt collections scam. You receive a phone call from someone claiming you have an unpaid debt. You are threatened with garnishments, lawsuits and even jail time if you don’t pay right now. The scammer often will use Caller ID spoofing and pretend to be a government agency or law enforcement in order to further invoke fear and make you send money.
▪ Sweepstakes/prizes/gifts scam. With this scam you receive a phone call, email or letter claiming you’ve won a prize in a sweepstakes, perhaps one you’ve never entered. In order to receive the prize, you’re instructed to send a fee to cover expenses associated with processing, insurance or delivery. However, this prize is not real. If you’ve really won, you should never have to pay money to claim a prize.
▪ Online purchase scam. This scam occurs when consumers pay for an item they never receive. While many online shopping sites are legitimate, there are scammers that set up fraudulent sites in order to steal personal or financial information or your money. Do your research and make sure you’re shopping on a legitimate, secure site or from a reputable seller.
▪ Employment scam. Scammers may say they have a job opening or can guarantee job placement if first you pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in a job. However, after you pay the job doesn’t materialize. If a potential employer asks you to pay the company to cover the costs of testing, training or background checks, consider it a red flag.
▪ Government grant scam. This scam comes in the form of a phone call, email or letter informing you qualify for a government grant. In order to receive the grant you must first send a processing or delivery fee, usually via wire transfer or a prepaid debit card. BBB advises you to never send money by wire transfer or a prepaid card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person. It’s almost impossible to trace this type of payment once it’s gone.
▪ Tech support scam. You get a call or a pop-up ad on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton or Apple) about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.
▪ Advance fee loan scam. An advance fee loan may seem like an easy way to get cash fast, but it may end up being a burden because of high interest rates and unaffordable payment terms. Advance fee lenders charge an upfront fee and will “guarantee” you a loan despite your credit history, and chances are you won’t get your money back. Also, real lenders, like banks or credit unions, will always check your credit history. A lender who isn’t interested in your credit history is an immediate red flag.
▪ Fake check or money order scam. You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed and you are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference. However, the check ends up being a fake and when it bounces you are the one out of the money.
▪ Phishing scam. You receive an email telling you you’ve won a contest or that a business needs to verify your personal information, usually sensitive data such as your Social Security number or credit card number. However, links in the email can take you to a site that downloads malware on your computer to search for your sensitive data. BBB advises you to never open emails or click on links from sources you don’t know. Keep in mind that legitimate businesses won’t ask you to confirm your personal information through email.
Kelvin Collins is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Georgia and the CSRA Inc., serving 41 counties in Middle Georgia and the Central Savannah River area. This tips column is provided through the local BBB and the Council of Better Business Bureaus. Questions or complaints about a specific company or charity should be referred directly to the BBB at 478-742-7999, www.bbb.org or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.