Consumer Reports investigates “Scamnation” and reports on the upward trend of fraud and identity theft in their October 2012 issue. It is estimated that the direct cost of financial fraud to Americans is between $40 and $50 billion a year. FTC calls today scams as “last dollar fraud aimed at taking the last dollar from the unemployed or the underemployed”.
With Maryland ranking 9th in the country for identity theft last year, our local reviewed the 20 top scams identified by Consumer Reports and advices Marylander’s to beware of these four scams reflecting today’s innovation and trends:
Solar Panel Scams: Solar energy scams are no exception when it comes to the typical contracting scam. Fraudulent contractors prey on those who are unfamiliar with their product. Make sure you know how solar energy works and how the benefits will affect you before investing the $5,000 to $60,000 chunk of change on any solar energy products. You might even qualify for the state and federal rebates that offer a reduction in the initial costs. Before hiring a solar paneling contractor, BBB suggest home owners take the following into consideration:
- Determine if solar energy is right for you. Due to the high costs associated with the initial investment of solar power, it is important to conduct a self-energy audit to determine if solar energy is right for you. Usually, if your monthly bill is less than $100, consider other ways to save energy that cost less.
- Be cautious of installers that promise no out of pocket costs prior to reviewing your specific situation. Be leery if an installer suggests obtaining credit for the full amount of the system even though they are promising very low or no costs due to rebates.
Fake Anti-Virus (AV) Attacks: MSN reports the FakeAV or “scareware” is probably one of the most prominent online threats for the last two or three years infecting millions of computers. A pop-up shows what appears to be a security scan that falsely reports a “virus invasion” warning of a potential system crash. Some Marylanders reported the pop-ups could not be removed even after rebooting the computer which then results in a costly trip to the computer repair shop.
- Find legitimate antivirus and antimalware software, install and keep it up to date! And if anyone calls on your phone alleging they are from a trust computer provider such as Dell or Microsoft and warns their security system detected a virus on YOUR home computer – hang up and do not give them access to your computer or your system. Call and verify first!
Grandparent Scam: You’re a grandparent and you receive a phone call from someone who identifies himself as your grandson, claiming they have been arrested or injured and needs money wired (typically to Canada, UK or Mexico) and quickly. Oh by the way, don’t tell mom or dad! This scam was first reported in 2008, but thanks to social networking sites, a criminal can sometimes uncover personal identifying information about their targets making the impersonations more believable.
- BBB along with the FBI urges grandparents and seniors to resist the pressure to act quickly; try to connect with your grandchild or another family member to determine whether or not the call is legit, and if you believe there is the slightest chance the call could be genuine, ask for details about the last visits with your grandchild or for details a stranger couldn’t know.
Win an iPad: Pop-up ads on your computer may invite you to bid on the “must have” electronics such as an iPad or iPhone and your cell phone number is required to play. As reported by Consumer Reports, the auction is “smoke and mirrors designed to capture your cell phone number to place unauthorized charges on your bill, a practice called cramming.” By providing your cell phone number in these contests, consumers report recurring charges as much as $9.99 per month on their cell phone bills.
- BBB advices consumers to keep a close eye on monthly phone statements. Demand refunds from your phone provider if you’ve been crammed and file complaints with the FCC for charges related to phone service and FTC for all other cramming charges on your phone bill.