The Connecticut Better Business Bureau’s top 10 scams of 2012:
Scam of the Year: Phony Newtown Charities
Within hours of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in
Newtown, Connecticut, social media pages dedicated to the child victims began cropping-up and some of them were scams asking for money. The FBI has already arrested one woman for posing as the aunt of one of the children killed, and state and federal agencies are investigating other possible fraudulent and misleading solicitations.
Although the number of people defrauded and total dollars stolen by these phony appeals is most likely low, the audacity of the scheme merits our selecting it as the “Top Scam of 2012.”
Top Home Improvement Scam: Sandy “Storm Chasers”
In 2012 we saw an unusual amount of storm chaser activity following Super Storm Sandy. Tree removal, roofing and general home repair contractors started showing up in neighborhoods looking for work. Some were legitimate, while others were unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared for the work, or simply took a deposit and disappeared.
Top Overpayment/Fake Check Scam: Car Ads
The online ad says something like “Get Paid Just for Driving Around” – a prominent company is offering $400 or more per week if you’ll drive around with their logo all over your car. The scammers send you a check to deposit and ask that you wire a portion to a graphic designer who will customize an ad for your vehicle. The check inevitably bounces, the wired money disappears and the “graphic designer” is nowhere to be found. The FBI’s Internet Complaint Center, www.ic3.gov, says they saw this one a lot in 2012.
Top Employment Scam: Mystery Shopping
Many of these job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam (above). Sometimes they even tell you that evaluating the wire service company is part of the job, which is why you are told to send back part of the money.
Top Emergency Scam: Relative in Distress (Grandparents) Scam
A grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/emails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money to be sent by wire transfer right away. Social media have made it easier for scammers to tell a more plausible story because they can harvest real facts from the supposed victim’s online profile.
Top Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam: Nonexistent Loans
Most of the scams in this category advertise online and promise things like no credit check or easy repayment terms. Then the hook: you have to make the first payment upfront, buy an “insurance policy,” or there is some other kind of fee required in advance to secure the loan.
In a new and aggressive twist, scammers threatened consumers with lawsuits and arrest if they didn’t pay back loans they never even took out in the first place. Some con artists contacted relatives and employers, and victims paid up, even though they didn’t owe the money, in order to avoid the embarrassment of being thought of as a delinquent.
Top Phishing Scam: President Obama Will Pay Your Utility Bills
At the peak of summer with utility costs soaring, consumers got emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a “new government program” to pay their utility bills. Victims “registered” with an official-looking website and provided all of the personal and financial information the criminals needed to commit identity theft.
Top Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican Phone Lottery
This is an old one that flared-up again this year. The calls come from Jamaica (area code 876) although the person claims to represent a company, the FBI or other trusted source. They tell you you’ve won a terrific prize (typical haul: $2 million and Mercedes Benz) but you have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings.
Top Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook Message, Texts and Tweets
You get a direct message through Twitter or text from a friend that mentions an embarrassing video or photo of you on Facebook. In a panic, you click on the link to see what it could possibly be, and you get pop-up error message that says you need to update Flash or other video player. The link downloads malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone.
Top Sales: Real Stars, Fake Goods
Sports memorabilia and phony tickets always make the list of top counterfeit goods. Counterfeiters profited by using the Super Bowl, World Series and London Olympics to sell cheap knock-offs. Some online scam sites just took credit card information and never delivered anything.