Better Business Bureau Names “Top Ten Scams” of 2012

January 13, 2013



Calgary, Alberta (January 9, 2013) – The Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams every year, and this past year launched two websites to help consumers figure out which offers are real and which ones are possibly frauds:

BBB Smart Investing (, developed in partnership with the FINRA Investor Education Foundation, informs consumers about investment fraud, Ponzi schemes and risky investments, and helps them assess their risk, check out U.S. brokers, and avoid getting taken. The general information provided is applicable to Canadians but Canadians should contact their local BBB to check on their broker.

BBB Scam Stopper developed in partnership with Western Union, educates consumers about the major types of scams and provides information on how to avoid them and how to report them.

The annual “Top Ten Scams” list is culled from a variety of sources. BBB gathers information on scams from consumers, some of whom have been victims of scams; from federal agencies; and from other reliable information sources.

“It’s hard to say which are the ‘biggest’ scams, as far as the number of people affected or the amount of money stolen, because many go unreported or under-reported,” said Sandra Crozier-McKee, President and CEO of the BBB Serving Southern Alberta and the East Kootenays. “Some of these scams have been around as long as BBB – 100 years – and some take advantage of brand new technologies. Our list is made up of the ones that seemed the most audacious, the most egregious. They hurt a lot of people, and it seems that scams are only getting more prevalent even as consumers are getting savvier. Although this list is compiled for all of North America, it is interesting to note that the consumers in our service area of Southern Alberta and East Kootenays were affected similarly by every one of these scams listed here.”

Here are BBB’s Top Ten Scams of 2012:

Top Overpayment/Fake Check Scam: Car Ads
The scam is old but this is a new twist. The online ad says something like “Get Paid Just for Driving Around” – a prominent company is offering $400+ per week if you’ll drive around with their logo all over your car. They send a check to you, which you are supposed to deposit in your account and then wire part of the payment to the graphic designer who will customize the ad for your vehicle. Whoops! A week later, the check bounces, the graphic designer is nowhere to be found, and you are out the money you wired. The Internet Crime Complaint Centre says that this was a common complaint filed this year. If you are a victim of internet fraud in Canada, contact your BBB or

Top Emergency Scam: Grandparents Scam
The “Grandparents Scam” has been around a while, but it’s still so prevalent we need to mention it again: grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling 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!”). 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 (“Remember that great camera I got for Christmas?” “I’m in France to visit my old college roommate.”). Easy rule of thumb – before you wire money in an emergency, do check with mom and dad and also check with the supposed victim or other family members to make sure they really are traveling. Odds are they are safe at home.

Top Employment Scam: Mystery Shopping
If you love to shop, working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement your income. Scammers have figured that out, too, and many job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam (above). Sometimes they even tell you that evaluating the wire service company is part of the job, which is why you need to send back part of the money. 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.

Top Advance Fee/Prepayment Scam: Nonexistent Loans
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 from U.S. locations 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.

Top Phishing Scam: Using a Respected Name to Impact Your Computer
The BBB phishing scam hit our top ten last year but the scammers have not slowed down their efforts to use our trusted name but others as well in 2012. Canada Post, UPS and even the Calgary Police Department have had their names used in emails that claim to have complaints, parcels or even crime information attached to a link in the email. The majority of these scams serve to slow people down by uploading malware into their computer causing viruses and costly repairs. Some are more malicious and end in identity theft. It is disruptive for the entity mentioned in the scam as they spend time fielding calls and reassuring the public that the email is a fake. Finally it ties up the time of valuable enforcement agencies such as the RCMP, the FBI and cybercrime companies to track and shut down the sites.

Top Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican Phone Lottery
This is an old one that flared up again this year. We consider it flattering (in a weird way) that BBB is such a trusted brand that we “star” in so many scams! In this one, the calls come from Jamaica (area code 876) but the person claims to represent BBB ( or other trusted group). Great news: you’ve won a terrific prize (typical haul: $2 million and Mercedes Benz) 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. Best just to hang up and then file a phone fraud report with the appropriate government agency (see below).

Top Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook Tweets
Two top social media sites were exploited in one of this year’s top scams. You get a Direct Message from a friend on Twitter with something about a video of you on Facebook (“ROFL they was taping you” or “What RU doing in this FB vid?” are typical tweets). In a panic, you click on the link to see what the embarrassing video could possibly be, and you get an error message that says you need to update Flash or other video player. But the file isn’t a new version of Flash; it’s a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone. Twitter recommends reporting such spam, resetting your password and revoking connections to third-party applications.

Top Home Improvement Scam: The Fake or Unskilled Contractor
BBB spends a lot of time investigating and reporting on home improvement scams such as tree removal, roofing, landscaping, and general home repairs. Although there are many licensed and skilled contractors available consumers can still fall victim to the unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared contractor. Some were out-and-out scam artists who took the money and never did the work. Often when it is an emergency or simply the impact of our short Canadian spring and summer season, it’s tempting to skip reference checking, but that’s never a good idea. BBB has tens of thousands of Accredited Businesses in the home contracting field who are committed to upholding our mission of trust. Next time you need home repairs, check out your BBB tips on How to Hire a Contractor and find a contractor at

Top Sales/Rental Scam: Real Stars, Fake Goods
Sports memorabilia and phony tickets to your favorite performer’s concert always make the list of top counterfeit goods. With the London Olympics added to the mix, it appears that 2012 was a good year for sports fakes. Some scammers were selling cheap knock-offs in front of stadiums. Others set up websites that just stole your money and never had any goods to begin with. Counterfeit goods are not only a rip-off for you because the merchandise is usually shoddy, but they are also a rip-off for the teams, athletes, performers, designers and artists who create, license and sell the real thing. Buy directly from team stores and ticket websites, or from legitimate retailers. You’ll pay a little more, but it will be the real deal. Remember, if a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Scam of the Year: Newtown Charity Scams
Although this took place in the United States, both Canadians and Americans were moved to show their support for the victims of this horrific act. Within hours of the 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. In response to these reports, BBB Wise Giving Alliance offered tips for donors to understand how and when to best support those dealing with such a tragic crisis or Canadians can check with Canada Revenue Agency. 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.”


More information for consumers:

For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scamstopper. Sign up for our Scam Alerts and learn about new scams as soon as we do.

To search for a business in the U.S. or Canada, or to find your local BBB, go to For additional information on Canadian charities, go to .

For information on Canadian government services, go to Service Canada.

For 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping consumers find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2012, more than 8000 Southern Alberta consumers a day turned to your local BBB for Business Reviews and consumer tips.

The scams mentioned above were compiled by The Council of Better Business Bureaus, the umbrella organization for 114 local, independent BBBs across the United States and Canada, as well as home to its national programs on dispute resolution and industry self-regulation. Our local BBB files indicate that this TOP List coincides with the most common scams recorded in our service area of Southern Alberta and the East Kootenays

For more information, journalists should contact your BBB at (403) 531-8784 or