2011-02-19 / News

Better Business Bureau lists Top 10 scams, rip-offs in 2010

COLUMBUS The Better Business Bureau recently released a list of the top 10 scams and rip-offs of 2010. Job hunters and those struggling to make money and get out of debt were common targets of fraudsters, hackers and deceptive businesses in this tough economy.

“With the economy still on the mend, scammers had a field day targeting those looking for work and trying to make ends meet,” said Kip Morse, President and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Central Ohio. “Some new additions to the list are signs of our tough economic times, while others have always plagued consumers.

BBB’s list of top scams and rip-offs effecting consumers and small business owners in Central Ohio in 2010 in no particular order is:

Mystery Shopper- Many victims received a job offer in the mail to become a Mystery Shopper. The offer includes a check to begin shopping. Victims deposit the check into their own accounts and after confirming with the bank teller that the check has “cleared”, the victim withdraws the money. The shopper is asked to evaluate a retail store and the company used to wire money back to the employer. Later the bank notifies the victim the check was returned and they must repay the money and any bank fees. Consumers should understand banks put the burden on them to know whether a check is good before depositing it into the bank. The victims have also opened themselves up to Identity theft as often the employment application asks for bank account numbers, social security numbers and other personally identifiable information.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams- The victim – often a senior citizen – receives a letter in the mail or phone call from someone pretending to be with Reader’s Digest, Publisher’s Clearing House or a phony foreign lottery. The scammer claims that the victim has won millions but must first wire hundreds or even thousands of dollars back to the scammers to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives. Once money is wired it cannot be recovered.

Debt Relief and Settlement Services - BBB cautioned consumers to be wary of third-party assistance for getting out of debt. These companies often require upfront fees and potentially leave the consumer drowning in more debt. Complaints to BBB nationally, about debt relief and settlement services, increased by approximately 30 percent in 2010, according to tentative yearend estimates.

Duct Cleaning - Several duct cleaning companies run ads offering air duct cleaning services for a low price, typically $69.95. Once they enter the home, the furnace is disassembled and the price increases significantly sometimes as much as $2,000. The victims, often senior citizens or single women, are left with the choice of paying the bill or not having their furnace put back in working order.

Identity Theft- There are lots of ways a person can become a victim of identity theft including not shredding credit card offers, posting your resume online, credit and debit card skimming, phishing emails, vishing phone calls, smishing text messages, and as the result of a corporate data breach. Millions fall victim to identity theft every year.

Work from Home Schemes- Recently work from home schemes have evolved from the usual envelope stuffing and crafting to claims that you can make thousands online or shipping goods which are later found to have been paid for with stolen credit cards. Many offers appear online, others still appear in the classified section of local newspapers asking job hunters to call a toll free phone number for information. Once the job seeker calls he is asked to wire a fee to receive information about the job. The end result is that instead of getting paid, you can end up losing hundreds-if not thousands-of dollars. Once money is wired it cannot be recovered.

Advance Fee Loan Scams- Always a problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners facing tough times. Victims, often applying for a loan online, are told they qualify but must pay a fee-often more than a thousand dollars. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.

Itinerant Home Repair/ Roofers- BBBs across the country received complaints from consumers who answered a knock from a door to door salesman or itinerant worker who eventually failed to deliver on promises to fix their roof or work on their home. Complaints to BBB nationally about roofing companies increased by roughly 40 percent in 2010, according to tentative estimates, due in part to

American Shingle soliciting door to door, filing bankruptcy and receiving nearly 1,000 complaints from angry customers nationwide who did not receive a new roof.

Vehicle Service Contracts- The complaint volume against companies offering extended automobile warranties is astounding. Many extended warranty companies have significant restrictions on repairs they cover, and consumers should clearly understand the warranty coverage before purchasing. Countless consumers have been left to pay for costly repairs after sending payment after payment and trusting that needed service would be covered.

Over-Payment Scams- Overpayment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on sites like Craigslist. The scammers overpay the amount for the services or products and then ask the victim to wire the extra amount back to them or to another fraudulent entity. Ultimately the check is fake and the victim is out the money wired back to the scammers.

Consumers and small business owners victimized by a scam should contact their local BBB or file a complaint at www.bbb.org. Always check with BBB before signing any contracts or handing over any money.

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