Americans lost $1.6 billion to scams
Editorial by Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York
There's a good chance you or someone you know has or will have a run-in with a scammer. Better Business Bureau serving Upstate New York is contacted by the public with scam inquires and reports every day through phone, email, social media and mail. BBB helped thousands of people who reached out with questions in 2014 offering information to determine whether something was legitimate or not, helped with advice to avoid traps, and offered trustworthy Business Review information.
The Federal Trade Commission's Consumer Sentinel Data Book estimates Americans lost $1.6 billion to scams in 2013, up from $1.4 billion the previous year. BBB of Upstate New York's "Top 10 Scams" list comes from a variety of sources, including reports from consumers (some of whom were victims of scams) and other reliable sources.
"Scams can happen to anyone. And sometimes, the scams go unreported, because the victims don't know they have been scammed or they are embarrassed," said Warren Clark, president of BBB of Upstate New York. "The scams that make the list are the most common and widespread. Scams are ever-changing, so we want to help people recognize them and prepare them for the next time they get a suspicious solicitation on the phone, in email or in a text message."
The "Top 10 Scams" of 2014:
•Microsoft/computer scams - A caller claims to be from Microsoft or a representative from another computer software company. The caller offers to solve a computer problem or sell a software license in an effort to gain remote control of the consumer's computer, and later requests a fee for service. Always check out a company first and only hire trusted repair businesses. Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls for computer help.
•IRS scams - People report receiving calls from "IRS representatives" who claim they owe taxes and must pay or a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Or, they claim the IRS is pursuing a lawsuit against you and you must make a payment immediately. The IRS never uses phone calls for collection purposes; the IRS only contacts taxpayers via U.S. mail.
•Grant scams - Consumers report unsolicited phone calls notifying there is a grant for them, but they have to pay a fee in order to collect it. Grants do not have to be repaid; thus, there is no need to use the word "free." Organizations do not usually give out grants for personal debt consolidation, or to pay for other personal needs. Grants are usually given only to serve a social good, such as bringing jobs to an area, training under-employed youth, preserving a bit of history, etc. Be wary if you are asked to provide money up-front to an unknown company before the company will provide the services promised.
•Phony invoice scams - This scam affects businesses and consumers. They receive what looks like a legitimate invoice in the mail or via email for a renewal for a newspaper or a magazine. It turns out to be a solicitation. Most newspapers invoice their customers directly, and don't use third-party billing.
•Caller ID spoofing scams - New technology allows scammers to now change the name of the caller ID on the phones, which in most cases allows them to pose as a business or local law enforcement agency. In one scenario, scammers called and told the person on the other line there is a warrant out for their arrest, but they can pay a fine to avoid criminal charges.
•Home improvement scams - Whether it is shoddy work from untrained or unlicensed company, or so called "invisible" repairs that are hard for consumers to detect on their own, the home improvement scam is always around. This includes repairs to roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawl spaces, etc. Scammers may simply knock at your door offering a great deal because they were in the neighborhood, but many are turning to telemarketing, social media and email to reach consumers. BBB reminds consumers to check out home contractors at bbb.org before saying "yes."
•Data breaches - Target, Home Depot, Michaels, PF Changs. These are just a few of the companies affected by data breaches in the past year. Do not click on unsolicited emails or social media messages; call your bank to see if your account was affected if you haven't heard from them. Always monitor your credit statements carefully.
•Charity scams -With the popularity of the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" and the deaths of celebrities, scammers are always trying to take advantage of people's generosity. Never click on links in unsolicited charity emails or on social media, and always check out a charity at give.org.
•Identity theft scams - Every two seconds, someone becomes a victim of identity fraud. And, every year, millions of Americans have their identities stolen. According to Javelin Research, that number was 13.1 million in 2013. Proper document shredding and protecting personal information online are two excellent ways to help prevent identity theft.
•Advance-fee loan scams - This generally takes place online. Consumers receive emails from "loan companies" saying they are "pre-approved with no credit check" for a loan. People are then charged hundreds of dollars to release the first payment, usually through a wire transfer or a GreenDot money card. Reputable loan companies always do credit checks on potential customers. They do no solicit over email nor do they charge people hundreds of dollars up front for a loan.
For scam alerts, tips and other information "you can trust," visit bbb.org.