Top 10 scams of 2012

The Better Business Bureau has released its list of the top 10 scams of 2012, warning scammers are capitalizing by using false pretences to con consumers.

The list is developed jointly by the BBB, Consumer Protection B.C., and the B.C. Crime Prevention Association.

Brand spoofing, or phishing, is a general term for e-mail, text messages designed to look like they come from well-known and trusted businesses, financial institutions and government agencies to collect personal and financial information.

If the recipient follows the link provided and connects with the fraudulent website, any information entered into the data fields could be recorded, collected and used for fraudulent purposes.

TIP: If you receive these messages, delete them and do not click on any links. Hang up on callers you aren’t familiar with. Never give credit information online or over the phone unless you are sure of the identity of the caller.

Consumers have reported losing substantial sums of money responding to advertisements that guarantee loans, often online. Consumers complete credit applications and are told the loan has been approved and the promised funds will be received once a fee is paid. After payment, the loan is never received as promised.

TIP: It is illegal for a company to charge a fee in advance to obtain a loan, even if that fee is disguised as the first or last month’s payment.

A strained economy and high demand for gold has resulted in many consumers selling and trading gold and jewellery, and receiving unfair returns in exchange.

TIP: Before cashing in on the gold rush, do your research. When choosing an appraiser, find someone locally you know and trust. Get multiple appraisals and compare prices before selling.

Financial elder abuse occurs when seniors’ pocketbooks are exploited by scammers who take advantage of a person’s vulnerabilities associated with age.

Common financial elder abuse frauds include tricking seniors into giving out private banking information; encouraging unnecessary home repair work, telemarketing and mail fraud..

TIP: Most elder abuse happens to a senior by someone they know, such as a family member, friend or caregiver. Signs a senior is being financially abused include missing belongings, unusual activity in bank accounts, suspicious stories, bounced cheques and numerous unpaid bills.

The switch to smart meters in B.C. fostered a rise in false claims and deceptive ads by some scammers selling energy conservation devices.

Consumers reported purchasing a number of power saving devices they claim did not work and that did not meet electrical safety standards.

TIP: Protect yourself from deceptive advertising by doing your research before making a purchase. Always check out a company’s BBB Business Review first. If it sounds too good to be true, remember that it probably is.

Each year, a variety of unscrupulous door-to-door salespeople use high-pressure sales tactics to frighten people into purchasing expensive, substandard, often unneeded products and services.

Be wary of overly aggressive sales people selling everything from alarm systems to vacuums and air purifiers, as well as roofing, paving, painting, heating, repair and landscaping services.

TIP: Don’t give in to high pressure sales tactics. If you feel threatened by an aggressive salesperson, ask them to leave your property. If they refuse, call the police. Before making any purchase, take the time to do your due diligence, getting the name and location of the company and ensuring all details and verbal promises are included in a contract.

In the case of the alleged caller from Microsoft, the caller claims to be phoning about a serious problem with the person’s computer that will make it unusable. The computer owner is directed to a website and told to download a program, which is actually damaging malware and spyware.

TIP: Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Check with the organization directly that the caller is claiming to be from, using the contact numbers found on their website. Do not provide any personal information to avoid identity theft. Never provide credit or debit card information for payment.

Consumers reported "local locksmiths" advertising online using a local telephone number and local address, but when contacted, consumers are connected to a call centre in another city.

Consumers who have hired these companies allege they have been overcharged for products and services, received bad advice or poor workmanship, or have had difficulty contacting the business to correct problems.

TIP: Don’t just pick the first "local" company you find online. Confirm the company address and ask for the legal name of the business. When the locksmith arrives, ask for identification, a business card and their license. Make sure they are insured so you know costs will be covered should any damage be done to your personal property.

Online ads, often designed to look like news reports, claim you can get great deals on iPads and other electronics with online penny auctions.

Generally, users must set up an account and purchase bids with a credit or debit card; each individual bid may cost less than a dollar and are often sold in bundles of 100 or more.

Every item has a countdown clock and as people bid, the cost of the item goes up incrementally and more time is added to the clock. Even if you don’t win the item, you still have to pay for the bids you placed, which can add up over time.

TIP: Pay close attention to details on signup and annual fees, minimum bidding requirements, maximum prize amounts and how to get a refund. Before bidding on an item, research how much it costs elsewhere and keep track of how much you’re spending on bids overall to see if you really are getting a good deal.

Users are often subject to targeted advertising and direct messages through social networking, including fraudulent work-at-home job offers and deceptive "free" trials. "Clickjacking" on Facebook convinces users to unknowingly post malicious links on their status updates.

TIP: Your computer should always have the most recent updates installed for spam filters, anti-virus and anti-spyware software, and a secure firewall. Use the most up-to-date versions of your web browser to offer further protection. Be wary of messages from friends and especially strangers that direct you to another website via a hyperlink.

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