1. Phishing Scams
"Phishing" is when a scammer calls or emails someone asking for personal information. Phishing emails infect computers with a virus to steal data. One of the most harmful phishing scams of 2011 disguised itself as an official communication from NACHA (National Automated Clearing House Association), which facilitates the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions every year.
The email claimed that a transaction did not go through, and like most phishing emails, it hopes recipients will react quickly and click on the link before thinking it through. Other major phishing scams in 2011 included those that were disguised as being from the BBB, StubHub, Netflix and UPS. The BBB is still working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of the phishing emails that used its name. The BBB has helped to shut down dozens of hijacked websites.
2. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the pitch is almost always this: the target has won a huge sum of money, and in order to claim it they must send in a smaller amount of money, usually via wire transfer. 2011's top sweepstakes scam was undoubtedly the email claiming to be from Facebook founder, Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the recipient was the winner of $1 million from the popular social networking site. The BBB consistently takes calls from people who think they've won a fraudulent sweepstakes.
3. Mail Fraud
One of the most widespread scams to take place locally involved deceptive mailings that appeared to be from "official" departments or offices. One notable scam of this kind was a mailing sent to several local businesses from an entity called, Corporate Controllers Unit. The letter deceived recipients into thinking they were updating their trade name filing with the state and asked for a payment of $225.00. The state of Colorado only charges $10.00 for the same filing.
4. Online Merchants
Online shoppers had quite a frustrating year, according to BBB complaints. Several online retailers left consumers hanging when it came to the delivery of their purchases in 2011. Online merchants selling everything from bikes, to pet supplies, to firearms and even brewery tours received numerous complaints about non-delivery and lack of refunds.
5. Social Media/Online Dating Scams
Fraudulent messages with malicious links claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden's death to the latest celebrity scandals appeared on social media sites, often looking as if they had been shared by a friend. "Sweetheart" scams were also prevalent, conning online daters into sending money to criminals pretending to be love interests.
Though 2011 was a quieter year for renegade roofers compared to recent years past, the BBB still saw a surge in complaints against the industry during the summer months. In June and July alone, over 100 complaints were filed against roofers. Complainants often state the roofer took a down payment and never started work or in other cases, never finished or did very poor work.
7. Job Scams
Secret shopper schemes, work-from-home fraud, and other phony job offers are still common, however, in 2011, job-related scams appeared to include an element of identity theft. One particular scam of this sort that hit our area appeared on Craigslist.
It claimed to pay $18.50 an hour for call center jobs but before applying, those interested were required to obtain a "free credit report." Applicants were instructed to get this credit report through a fraudulent website, which is where identity theft may have been committed, as extremely personal information is requested for the report.
8. Timeshare Scams
Timeshare owners continue to be frustrated with not being able to sell their properties. In 2011, many consumers fell victim to a very specific timeshare scam. Victims received a call out of the blue offering a generous price for their Mexican timeshare property. The buyer offered to handle the transaction for no money up front and made the process simple and easy for the consumer, emailing all necessary documents and providing a supposed independent escrow account to act as a secure third party.
In time, various international taxes and other ambiguous fees were assessed to victims, while the timeshare company promised reimbursement at the time of sale. Thousands of dollars later, both the buyer and escrow company disappeared, taking with them the consumers' money and trust.
9. Penny Auction Websites
Appearing for the first time on the BBB's top 10 list is penny auction websites; a new, ever-growing sector of online sales. Penny auctions are very popular because they appear to offer high-end products, (cameras, computers, etc.) for well below retail prices. But customers pay a small fee for each bid (usually $0.50 to $1.00) and when they don't win, they lose all bid money they've paid. This loss of money is what differentiates these offers from typical auctions. Although not all penny auction sites are scams, some are being investigated as online gambling.
10. Identity Theft
There are countless ways to steal someone's identity and hotels everywhere became a target of this crime in 2011. Many hotels now post warnings in their lobby about the following scam: guests get a call in their hotel room in the middle of the night and seems to be the front desk clerk saying their computer has crashed and they need the guest's credit card number again. Scammers count on guests being too sleepy to catch on that the call isn't from the hotel at all, but from a criminal who knows the direct-dial numbers for the guest rooms. By the time morning rolls around and the guest is clear-headed, their
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