BBB Reports on Top 10 Scams of 2008

January 5, 2009 10:22:50 AM PST
Consumers throughout Chicago area and northern Illinois were targets of scams in 2008 that grew in complexity and sophistication. However, the Better Business Bureau of Chicago and Northern Illinois recommends three easy-to-remember general rules to avoid being a victim of a scam:

Don't pay upfront fees for promised services Always confirm who is asking for personal or financial information, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

"We are very pleased that the BBB has become a greater resource for consumers who are following our advice to check out the record of a business first before signing a contract or making a purchase," says Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business of Chicago and Northern Illinois. "If consumers would consistently do this simple first step, there would be many fewer upset and dissatisfied shoppers. Make that resolution now for the new year to contact the BBB first and if you suspect a scam report it on our web page at www.bbb.org."

The 10 top scams of 2008 are:

1. Check scams
2. Advance fee lenders
3. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue scams
4. Illegitimate credit repair & debt negotiation services
5. Work at home and fraudulent employment opportunities
6. Phishing and fake e-cards
7. Mystery/secret shopping scam
8. Phony directories and yellow pages
9. Grant & government job finding entities
10. Deceptive weight loss products advertising

1. Check scams ? Consumers report receiving checks in the mail, allegedly for winning a sweepstakes, lottery, or promotion. These checks all look very official and communicate urgency with words such as "Final Notification." That's designed to stop the consumer from thinking about what the scammers want the person to do. What's common to all the variations of this scam is that the consumer is urged to deposit the check, and then write another check from the consumer's bank account to cover alleged taxes or fees. The check that was deposited turns out to be worthless while the check sent by the consumer is good, and that money ends up being unrecoverable.

2. Advance fee lenders - These scam artists frequently contact consumers by phone after consumers fill out online loan applications or respond to illegitimate newspaper ads. Scammers may have professional-looking websites and contracts, and offer quick and immediate loans, usually "to be wired within 24-48 hours" to a victim's account. The catch: the consumer is requested to pay advance fees before they receive the loan. After the victim wires the money, he never sees his loan funds or advance fee payment again. Advance fee lenders almost always use fake physical addresses or use real companies' addresses in an act of identity theft.

3. Mortgage foreclosure rescue scams ? Due to foreclosure information being publicly available, many scammers contact desperate home owners and promise to save their home. They will claim to know investors or a "loop-hole", or will claim to be able to bypass the involvement of attorneys or other agents, thereby leaving the consumer in a complex and vulnerable situation. Victims of foreclosure rescue scams are asked to pay upfront funds or provide sensitive personal information. On many occasions the scammer will rob unknowing consumers of their money and do nothing for them in return, while in other cases the consumer may unknowingly sign away their property deed entirely, on pretense that "they'll be able to buy it back later."

4. Illegitimate credit repair & debt negotiation services - Due to the troubling economic situation, many consumers seek out credit repair or debt settlement companies- here is what you need to know about them and how to determine their legitimacy.

These services can not ask for money in advance. They can not automatically get legitimate negative reports off your credit report. Be extremely cautious about a service that recommends you not pay creditors so it can negotiate. This could negatively affect your credit report. A service should never guarantee they can cut your debt by a specific percentage.

5. Work-at-home and fraudulent employment opportunities - Work-at-home and business opportunity scams are frequently found online as well as in the classified sections. They promise high income for minimal work and minimal effort. However, when an interested consumer "applies", they almost always ask for money up-front to pay for materials, training kits, or investment money. After sending payment, most consumers either have their checks deposited and never hear anything again, or obtain something that is completely useless- essentially junk mail. Internet employment opportunities, mostly found on job boards, looking for "shipping" or "billing managers", "payment processors", or anything with a financial sounding name, very frequently turn out to be fraudulent listings that are in actuality looking for victims to commit money laundering by accepting and forwarding payments.

6. Phishing and fake e-cards - Phishing is a crime and a high-tech scam that uses spam to deceive consumers into disclosing their personal information. Scammers create a legitimate looking email from a bank or financial institution, which is then sent en masse to consumers. The email asks for a confirmation of the consumer's account and personal information. It might state that there has been a security threat and that's why consumer must verify this info by clicking on a link within the email. If followed, the link subsequently reroutes the consumer to the scammer's website, which may look similar to a site of an already established institution, and the consumer winds up sending their personal information and bank account to a thief. Scammers also use e-cards to people that cause them to enter personal information that would allow the scammers access to personal data.

7. Mystery/secret shopping scam - Fraudulent mystery shopping promoters frequently use newspaper ads and internet solicitations to create an impression that they are affiliated with or work for respectable and reputable companies. The website that you will be led to often asks that you "register" and pay a fee in order to receive information about a certification program, a directory of mystery shopping companies, or baseless guarantees of obtaining mystery shopping positions. Most don't exist, have already expired, or have nothing to do with legitimate secret shopping offers.

8. Phony directories and yellow pages - Phony directories or yellow page scams usually target small to medium sized businesses. The scam manifests itself in the form of solicitors calling businesses and seeking to verify the company's name and physical location, and allegedly calling to "renew" or "re-enroll" an existent yellow pages listing or advertisement. Many companies or their employees are misled into accepting the alleged "renewals." The illegitimate directory provider immediately sends an invoice for this service, usually in the amount of hundreds of dollars, and threatens businesses with collections or credit report damage should they dispute the charges or decline to pay.

9. Grant & government job finding entities - Now more than ever consumers are looking for ways to cut corners and obtain financial assistance to help them finance projects, debt, as well as paying for school. Entities claiming to assist in grant research, grant applications, or conducting grant or government-oriented seminars with the aim of helping consumers find applicable grants or government employment, should all be regarded with caution. The majority of these entities charge for services, applications, or information that can be easily obtained for free by doing online searches or visiting school financial aid offices.

10. Deceptive weight loss products advertising - With the Brazilian acai berry being the new Hoodia to allegedly promote weigh loss, many weight loss pill distributors have been advertising the effectiveness of their weight loss products wildly via the internet and through conventional ads. Most come with flashy yet unsubstantiated statements, lengthy but questionable testimonials, and free trial offers. The BBB would like to alert consumers of an increased volume of complaints against both the effectiveness of the products as well as about the deceptive nature of the free trial offers. The trials themselves are very time sensitive, and consumers must return the unused portions of what is generally a month's supply of pills before the offer is over- otherwise the consumer's credit card is immediately charged with pricy monthly fees, which are difficult to cancel or get refunded.

BBB's nationwide have received thousands of complaints from consumers who thought they were signing up for a free-trial offer of acai berry weight loss products that were supposedly endorsed by Oprah Winfrey, Rachel Ray and other celebrities; in the end, the free trial cost them, month after month.

As a private, non-profit organization, the purpose of the Better Business Bureau is to promote an ethical marketplace. BBBs help resolve buyer/seller complaints by means of conciliation, mediation and arbitration. BBBs also review advertising claims, online business practices and charitable organizations. BBBs develop and issue reports on businesses and nonprofit organizations and encourage people to check out a company or charity before making a purchase or donation.


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