April Fool’s Day may be prime time for pranks, but the Better Business Bureau (BBB) reminds consumers that scammers take advantage of the unwary every day, not just on the first of April.
The BBB gets calls every day from people who think they’ve won a foreign lottery or have received a check for prize money from a contest they didn’t enter. We try to point out the red flags that can show that the call, mail or email they’ve received is a scam.
Among the common scams:
1. Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams - Typically, the victim receives a letter in the mail stating that he or she has won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter instructs the victim to deposit an enclosed check and then wire a portion back to the company to cover taxes or administration fees. The check turns out to be fake, and the victim loses whatever they wired back to the scammers—often thousands of dollars.
BBB Advice: Never wire money to someone you don’t know. You should never have to send money to receive any winnings from a lottery or sweepstakes.
2. Medicare Scams - Navigating the Medicare system isn’t easy and some scammers take advantage of the confusion. Commonly, a scammer will claim to be with Medicare and ask for personal information such as Medicare, Medicaid, Social Security, credit card or bank account numbers. The victim might be given any number of excuses to provide this information, such as: an error needs to be fixed, that he or she is part of a survey or eligible to receive free products or to sign them up for a new prescription drug plan.
BBB Advice: Medicare will never call to ask for sensitive personal financial information. If you suspect fraud, contact your local police or the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General at 800-HHS-TIPS.
3. Bereavement Scams - Scammers often try to take advantage of people who have recently lost a loved one, such as a spouse. In one recent example, a mother and daughter team in Ohio found targets by scouring the obituaries. They would then call the widow or widower and claim that their spouse had outstanding debts that needed to be paid immediately. Victims would then provide a blank check or credit card.
BBB Advice: Offer help to family members if they have recently lost a loved one and are inexperienced in managing finances. If you are uncertain about owing a debt when collectors call, ask for written confirmation.
4. Deceptive Sales: Some scammers come to the front door and may be invited inside. They include furnace repairmen, contractors, door-to-door salespeople, air duct cleaners and other service providers. Some professionals will lie about the extent of the problem or claim safety issues and then inflate prices for unsuspecting customers.
BBB Advice: Find professionals you can trust by checking out a company with the BBB before you hand over any money. Report any deceptive practices to your BBB, local law enforcement and the state attorney general.
5. Investment and Work-at-Home Opportunities - The pitch might come in the form of an investment opportunity that promises big returns, or as a way to make money at home for an upfront cost. Regardless of the specifics, the victim is offered what sounds like a great opportunity but the extra income never materializes.
BBB Advice: The BBB is not aware of any legitimate work-at-home opportunities. Beware of investment or money-making offers that seem too good to be true or use high pressure sales tactics to get you to sign up immediately.
6. Grandparent scam - Telephone calls come in from someone claiming to be a relative who is stuck in a foreign country and needs money to get home. Some may say their money or identification papers were stolen or that they are in a hospital and need money to pay for medical care.
BBB Advice: Ask the caller for the person’s name or other information that would be known only to a relative. Also ask for a number to call them back and check with family members on whether the person is actually overseas. If they don’t provide a number or can’t provide identifying information, don’t respond to their demands. Do not wire money to someone you don’t know.
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