BBB Issues Top 10 Scams and Rip-Offs of 2009

January 13, 2010
1. Weight Loss Pill Free Trial Offers– Ads offering trial offers for acai or resveratrol weight loss pills blanket the internet including trusted web sites of national news organizations. The marketing campaigns often falsely claimed an endorsement by Oprah, Rachel Ray and Doctor Oz. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB that the free trial actually cost them as much as hundreds of dollars, month after month.

2. Mystery Shopping– Consumers across the country thought that they could make a few hundred dollars by becoming a secret shopper and evaluating the customer service of various stores. The victim is asked to shop a few stores and also wire money back to the scammers in order to evaluate a money wiring service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. A seemingly real looking check is supposed to cover the costs, but ends up being a fake. The victim is out hundreds, if not thousands of dollars.

3. Lottery Scam –
The victim receives a letter in the mail from Publisher’s Clearing House or another supposed lottery and is told that they’ve won millions. The only catch is that the victim has to wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers supposedly to cover taxes or some other bogus fee.

4. Friend/Family in Distress–
Also known as the Grandma Scam, the victim receives a call or even a message on Facebook from a friend or family member claiming that they are outside of the country and have gotten into trouble. The victim is asked to wire thousands of dollars to pay for lawyer’s fees or to post bail.

5. Mortgage foreclosure rescue/debt assistance–
Many families struggling in the current economy and hucksters are offering to help them save their house from foreclosure or help them get out of credit card debt. Unfortunately, victims are paying hundreds of dollars up front for the assistance they desperately need but ultimately never receive.

6. Phishing emails/H1N1 spam– A perennial problem, phishing emails pop up in inboxes and can take various forms such as appearing to be from a business, a government agency or even a friend. Whatever the setup, the goal of any phishing email is the same; to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware. In addition to phishing emails, spam emails selling wares to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus were particularly rampant in 2009.

7. Job hunter scams–
Unemployment in the US has hit the double digits for the first time in more than 25 years and scammers know that they have a large pool of out of work individuals to take advantage of.  Scams targeting job hunters vary and include offers to find employment for a large upfront fee, attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers and requirements to pay a fee in order to even be considered for the job.

8. Travel Clubs- For the last three months of 2009 Southern Arizona consumers were inundated with phone calls and letters from travel clubs claiming consumers had won various free prizes such as airline tickets, televisions, and even cars. The catch: in order to receive their gift consumers must attend a seminar and sign up for a costly travel club that more often than not will not deliver the savings promised during the sales pitch.

9. Robocalls– Owning a cell phone or having their phone number on the do-not-call list did not help thousands of people across the US put a stop to harassing automated telemarketing calls.  The robocalls often claimed that their auto warranty was about to expire—which wasn’t true—or offered help in reducing their interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the FTC to increasingly restrict the practice in 2009.

10. Google Work from Home Scam–
Countless web sites claim that you can learn how to make money from home using Google or Twitter and offer a free trial of learning materials, such as a CD-ROM. The web sites often include Google and Twitter by name and logo. As a result, many complainants to BBB state that they thought they were getting a job with Google or Twitter when in, fact, they were being lured into another misleading free-trial offer.