During 2012, several national and international scams operated in the Acadiana area. The BBB has spoken to countless consumers to try and warn them to avoid being taken and sent many news releases to media across Acadiana to get the word out on these scams. One of the primary functions of the Better Business Bureau of Acadiana is to alert residents and consumers of scans operating in our service area and work with law enforcement to have them shut down whenever possible.
The flowing list is the top 10 scams that operated in Acadiana over the last year:
Jamaican Phone Lottery
In this scam, calls come from Jamaica (area code 876) but the person claims to represent the BBB, FBI, Publishers Clearinghouse, Western Union or other trusted groups. Great news: you’ve won a terrific prize (usually about $2 million and Mercedes Benz or Cadillac), but you have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings. There are lots of variations on this; sometimes it’s a government grant. It is best just to hang up.
Medicare Card Scams
In this scam, people call elderly residents and tell them that the government needs to send them a new Medicare, Medicaid or Social Security card, but they must first confirm confidential information such as a Social Security number or bank account information. This scam usually leads to identity theft that is often difficult and time consuming to correct.
This scam involves consumers receiving a phone call falsely informing them that they have won a “free grant” of $5,000 to $7,000. But in order to collect the grant, you must first send money as a processing fee. Grants are always very competitive and consumers and businesses must generally apply for them in order to win them. The government does not give grants on the grounds that you pay utilities, taxes or bills on time. The application process is generally very lengthy and competitive. Odds are if you did not apply for a grant, you were not awarded one!
The online ad says something like “Get Paid Just for Driving Around” or someone contacts you to purchase a product or item you are selling. You get a check in the mail in which you are to deposit and send a portion back to them. A week later, the check bounces, they are nowhere to be found and you are out the money you wired. The FBI’s Internet Complaint Center (www.ic3.gov) says they saw this one a lot in 2012.
The “Grandparents Scam” has been around a while, but it’s still very prevalent. A grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/emails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money right away (“…and please don’t tell mom and dad!”). The FBI says that, thanks to social media, it’s getting easier and easier for scammers to tell a more plausible story because they can use real facts from the supposed victim’s life. Before you wire money in an emergency, check with the supposed victim or their family members to make sure they really are traveling. Odds are they are safe at home.
If you love to shop, working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement your income. But scammers have figured that out too, and many job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says it’s not the practice of their members to pre-pay shoppers, but if you have your heart set on this type of job, you can find a legitimate gig through their website at www.mysteryshop.org.
Loan scams continued to fester in 2012. It seems for every legitimate lender out there, there is a scammer waiting to prey on people in desperate situations. Most of the scams advertise online and promise things like no credit check or easy repayment terms. Then the hook: you have to make the first payment upfront, you have to buy an “insurance policy,” or there is some other kind of fee that you have to pay first to “secure” the loan. This year, we heard a new, aggressive twist on loan scams: consumers who were threatened with lawsuits and law enforcement action if they didn’t “pay back” loans they said they had never even taken out in the first place. Some got calls at their workplace, even to relatives. The embarrassment of being thought of as a delinquent caused some victims to pay even when they knew they didn’t owe the money.
President Obama Will Not Pay Your Utility Bills
Of all the politically-related scams, this one seemed to be the most prevalent. At the peak of summer with utility costs soaring, consumers got emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a “new government program” to pay your utility bills. Hey, the president wants to get re-elected, right? Maybe he’s just trying to win votes. Victims “registered” with an official-looking website and provided everything scammers needed for identity theft purposes, including bank account information.
Top Home Improvement Scam: “Storm Chasers”
The BBB spends a lot of time investigating and reporting on home improvement scams. Tree removal, roofing, general home repairs – some were legitimate contractors and others were unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared for the work. Still others were scam artists who took the money and never did the work. In an emergency, it’s tempting to skip reference checking as well as checking with the BBB, but that is never a good idea.
Scam of the Year: Newtown Charity Scams
Within hours of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut, social media pages dedicated to the child victims began cropping up…and some of them were scams asking for money. The FBI has already arrested one woman for posing as the aunt of one of the children killed and state and federal agencies are investigating other possible fraudulent and misleading solicitations. Although the number of people defrauded and the total dollars stolen is most likely low, the cynicism and sheer audacity of these scams merits our selecting it as the “Top Scam of 2012.”
Don’t be victim of a scam in 2013, educate yourself! The BBB of Acadiana works for a trustworthy marketplace by maintaining standards for truthful advertising, investigating and exposing fraud against consumers and businesses. Find information on the latest scam at www.acadiana.bbb.org or call (337) 981-3497 24 hours a day for information on businesses throughout North America.