Better Business Bureau's Top 10 Scams of 2015

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Scammers were busy last year. Steve Bernas shared the Better Business Bureau's top ten scams of 2015 and explained how people can protect themselves in the future. (WLS)

Scammers were busy last year. Steve Bernas shared the Better Business Bureau's top ten scams of 2015 and explained how people can protect themselves in the future.


January 7, 2016

The Top 10 Scams of 2015 impacting consumers range from taxes and credit cards to home improvement and computers. Common to all of these scams reported to the BBB was the fact that theft is at the core of every one. Scammers wanted to steal either money or personal identity information. What varied was the way they attempted their thefts.

"Throughout the year, the BBB warns consumers and businesses of various scam attempts," explains Steve J. Bernas, president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois. "Now, when we compile all of these actions, it is shocking to see how this thievery targets virtually every aspect of how we live and do business. We should realize scammers are nothing but thieves."

The Top 10 Scams of 2015 are listed below:

1. Tax Scam: You receive a phone call from someone who says they are with the IRS. They claim you owe money in back taxes and will be arrested or face legal consequences if you do not pay (usually by wire or prepaid debit card). The caller ID is spoofed to appear to be a government agency or the police.

2. Tech Support Scam: You are contacted by "technicians" claiming to have detected a virus or security threat on your computer and, for a fee, can log in and correct the problem remotely. These callers are actually hackers trying to steal money or sensitive computer passwords and/or damage computers with malicious software.

3. Lottery/Sweepstakes/Prizes Scam: You receive a call, letter, or email claiming you've won some type of prize. It may involve a lottery or a sweepstakes. In order to receive the prize, you are instructed to send a fee to cover expenses associated with delivery, processing, or insurance. The prize is not real; you should never have to pay money to claim a prize you have won.

4. Advance Fee Loan Scam: While searching for loan information, you see an enticing ad and click through to the website. You fill out an application and soon receive an email or phone call advising that you are approved for the loan, but you must first send a processing fee, security deposit or insurance. You pay the "fee," but never see the loan.

5. Fake Check/Money Order Scam: This can happen any time someone is paying you for goods or services (even when you are selling something online). You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed, and you are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference. The check is a fake and when it bounces, you're out the money.

6. Debt Collection Scam: You receive a phone call from someone claiming that you have an unpaid debt. You are threatened with garnishments, lawsuits, even jail time if you don't pay right now. The scammer will often use caller ID spoofing and pretend to be a government agency or law enforcement in order to further invoke fear.

7. Credit Card Scam: The scammer pretends to be from your bank or credit card issuer, and they claim that you are now eligible for a lower interest rate, or that they need to verify a recent transaction. The consumer provides the scammer with their credit card number and security code to "verify" their identity.

8. Home Improvement Scams: These can be as varied as the areas around your home that need fixing. Typically, the scammers are not established businesses in the area but still claim to be working on nearby homes. Often they attempt to have you pay a significant amount of money upfront. And then they never show up again as promised. You have lost the money and there's no way to contact them.

9. Government Grant Scam: You receive a phone call, email, or letter informing you that you've qualified for a government grant. In order to receive the grant, however, you are instructed to send money as a processing or delivery fee, usually by wire transfer or prepaid debit card.

10. Work from Home Scam: While looking for a job online, you answer an ad for making big bucks while working from home. The job may be stuffing envelopes, posting advertisements, or shipping packages. They often request an advance fee for their information and materials but no real opportunity to make money exists. You could also have your identity stolen when you fill out the employment forms, or even end up handling stolen merchandise.

"These scams continue because they are successful enough to make it worthwhile for these thieves to keep trying to con people out of money," says Bernas. "There is a science to scams, and it may surprise you to know that scammers use many of the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. The difference, of course, is that their "product" is illegal and could cost you a fortune."

Here are the ways that scammers use to draw you in:

Establishing a connection: The scammer builds rapport and a relationship with you. This can be face-to-face, online or by telephone Rapport is particularly important in home improvement scams, investment scam and online romance scams.

Source credibility: Scammers use techniques to make themselves look legitimate, such as fake websites, social media posts, or hacked emails that come from a friend's account. Most email phishing scams spoof real companies, and many scammers pretend to be a trusted business or government agency in order to add credibility.

Playing on emotions: Scammers rely on emotion to get you to make a quick decision before you have time to think about it. An emergency situation or a limited time offer is usually their methodology. They count on emotional rather than rational decision-making.
Bernas noted despite these techniques that scammers use, consumers can protect themselves by remembering these basic steps:

-Don't be pressured into making fast decisions.
-Take time to research the organization. Check them out on, search online, etc.
-Never provide your personal information (address, date-of-birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
-Don't click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
-If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business directly using the number on your bill or credit card.
-Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don't know or haven't met in person.
-Never send money for an emergency situation unless you can verify the emergency.

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