The Better Business Bureau released a list of the past year’s top 10 scams and rip-offs this month. 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 struggling families who were looking for work and trying to make ends meet,” said Thomas J. Gallagher, President and CEO of the BBB serving Central Virginia. “While some of the most popular scams are perennial problems that have always plagued consumers, some new additions to the list are signs of our tough economic times.”
Job Hunter Scams– Scams targeting job hunters vary and include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers and requirements to pay a fee in order to be considered for the job.
Debt Relief and Settlement Services – BBB warned consumers in 2010 to seriously consider assistance for getting out of debt. These companies often require upfront fees and potentially leave the consumer drowning in even more debt. Complaints to BBB about debt relief services increased by approximately 30 percent in 2010, according to estimates.
Work from Home Schemes – Some work from home schemes promise to teach the secrets to making money online, others claim you can make money assembling items at home or get paid to be a mystery shopper. Some victims even found that their opportunity to work from home was a job to fence stolen goods. The end result is that instead of getting paid, you can end up losing hundreds or thousands of dollars.
Timeshare Resellers – According to 2010 estimates, complaints to the BBB about the timeshare industry increased by over 40 percent. Timeshare owners who are desperate to get rid of their costly vacation property are being targeted by companies that claim they have a buyer. The company tells the seller they just have to pay up to several thousand dollars to cover fees. After paying the fees, the seller never hears from the company again.
“Free” Trial Offers – Misleading free trial offers online for diet supplements, penny auctions and money making schemes blanket the internet resulting in thousands of complaints every year. The free trial offers seem no-risk but complainants state they were repeatedly billed and found it extremely difficult to cancel.
Itinerant Home Repair – 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 conduct work to the home. Complaints to BBB about roofing companies increased by roughly 40 percent in 2010, according to estimates, due in part to one company that solicited door to door, American Shingle, which received nearly 1,000 complaints nationwide after going bankrupt and not providing new roofs to angry customers.
Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams – The victim 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.
Advance Fee Loan Scams – A perennial problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must pay upfront fees. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.
Over-Payment Scams – Over-payment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or 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 though, the check is forged and the victim is out the money wired back to the scammers.
Consumers or small business owners victimized by a scam can contact their local BBB or file a complaint at www.bbb.org. Always research a business with BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.