Can You Name the Ten Most Common Scams?

spot a scam 150x150 Can You Name the Ten Most Common Scams?Quick, close your eyes. Now name a scam. Any scam. Ok, open them. How did you do? Can you do it ten times?

This year marks the Centennial of the Better Business Bureau, which means we’ve been monitoring the marketplace for 100 years. The BBB mission has expanded greatly throughout the years, but we continue to investigate scams to this day. Here is a list of 10 memorable frauds that you should be familiar with:

1. Bogus Health Products. Since the 1800s! Talk to your doctor before using any “new” health product – especially those marketed directly to consumers and which make outrageous claims.

2. Advance Fee Loans – People search the Internet for a lender who will help them. Instead, they find fraudulent websites promising easy credit and loans. The offers are bogus; people never receive their loans and wind up worse than they were before. If a loan company asks you for payment upfront, they’re not legitimate.

3. The Nigerian Scam – Since the 1980s, this scam has defrauded scores of U.S. consumers. Via email you learn a rich foreign relative has died or is trying to get funds out of a war-torn region. You have to give them money upfront. Payment occurs via wire transfer; sometimes a fake check is sent. Checks bounce and people are out the money they wired.

4. The Grandma Scam –Victims receive a call from a “grandchild” in distress in a foreign country. Grandparents are told to wire money to “the police.” The best defense is to remain calm. Make them give you their name. Insist on calling your son or daughter. Chances are, you’ll find your grandchild safe at home.

5. Foreign lotteries or sweepstakes: A check comes in the mail–to cover “taxes, fees or insurance.” You’re supposed to cash the check and wire back funds to claim your prize, but the check is no good. Remember, it’s illegal forU.S. citizens to enter foreign sweepstakes or lotteries. If you have to send money, even if they send you a check, you haven’t won anything.

6. Overpayment Scams – Your classified or Craigslist ad receives an email expressing interest in the item. The mystery buyer’s English is poor. They want the item delivered through a shipper. They offer to overpay for the item and want you to wire the excess funds after the check is deposited. Never accept a check for more than the selling price and never agree to wire back funds to a buyer.

7. Charity Scams: Fraudulent solicitations come over the phone with scammers pretending to be affiliated with legitimate charities. Other scams involve bogus websites created to fool people into providing credit cards. Use charities’ own websites directly. You can investigate unfamiliar charities online at   

8. Employment/Mystery Shopping Scams: Red flags to watch for include:

  • Requests for an upfront fee.
  • Unsolicited job offers or employment offers that promise exorbitant pay for working just a few hours a day or from your home.
  • “Companies” that seek sensitive personal or financial information for credit or background checks.

Regardless of the reason or excuse given by the employer, you should never give out his or her Social Security or bank account numbers over the phone or e-mail.

Mystery Shopping Scams operate just like lottery scams and overpayment scams—here is a check; do a job, wire money back to your “employer.” The checks are no good and you’re out any money you send away.

9. Phishing: Scammers, masquerading as a legitimate organizations, send official-seeming email to get you to reveal sensitive data. If you get an email or pop-up asking for personal or financial information, don’t reply. Don’t click any links. Contact the organization mentioned using a phone number you know is genuine, or open a new window and type the company’s correct web address. Use regularly updated anti-virus and anti-spyware software, as well as a firewall. 

10. Smishing
: Cell phone text messages deliver the “bait” to get people to divulge their personal information. They claim there’s a problem with your debit or credit card or bank account, and that it’s been frozen. Never provide personal or financial information to unknown parties, and never click on any embedded Internet links in unsolicited text messages.

Avoid becoming a victim of these common scams. Do your research at and keep up with updates and alerts from your BBB. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, it most likely is.

Thanks to Dan Hendrickson of the very first BBB — the BBB Serving Minnesota and North Dakota — for this compilation.

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About Holly Doering

Holly Doering has worked for the Better Business Bureau Serving Eastern Washington, North Idaho, and Montana for half a decade. Her areas of expertise include the CORE Values Program (Character, Optimism, Respect, Ethics) for Teens and Charity Review as well as writing and editing. Prior to that, she has written for two newspapers, a local magazine, and taught English at the community college. She is the proud author of a short story in ZYZZYVA literary magazine and has had good luck publishing lots of poetry. Each year she rolls up her sleeves and wades into the autumn Nanowrimo writing madness and has several unfinished novels to her credit.