Don’t Be an April Fool! BBB Offers Top Scams to Avoid

If you haven't already, chances are good that you'll have a run-in with a scammer. It might be a phishing email asking you to click on a link, a phone call telling you your computer has been compromised, or a contractor who shows up at your door ready to pave your driveway.
April 01, 2014

If you haven't already, chances are good that you'll have a run-in with a scammer. It might be a phishing email asking you to click on a link, a phone call telling you your computer has been compromised, or a contractor who shows up at your door ready to pave your driveway.

Understanding what makes a consumer fall for a scam can help you avoid being an "April Fool” or falling for the next scam that comes along. “Scammers are known to target certain groups of individuals,” said Warren Clark, President of Better Business Bureau of Upstate New York. “People who live alone, people worried about money, or those who rush into buying decisions can get caught by scammers bait. It’s easy to get trapped but armed with more knowledge and slowing down quick decisions, can help consumers steer clear of many so called deals.”

There are common do’s and don’ts savvy consumers keep in mind:

  • Don't take someone at their word. Consumers should do their homework, ask questions, look for experience and verify licenses.
  • Do check with BBB. Get more information about the business, resolutions to complaints and answers about their history.
  • Don't get emotional. Victims of scams areoften times motivated by fear, greed, romance, or excitement.
  • Do take your time. A good deal today will be there tomorrow. Take time to recognize common persuasion tactics.
  • Don't act impulsively. Sometimes, people are quick todownload files, click on pop-up ads, sign-up for trial offers and open emails from unknown senders.
  • Do check for trust. Make sure anything you open is from someone you know or a trusted source.
  • Don't be afraid to be "rude." In certain situations, it is OK to hang up the phone or shut the door on people who may be trying to scam you.
  • Do protect your personal information. Shred your documents, or keep things locked up. Do not use the same password for EVERY account.

Scams are everywhere. Each day, scammers are finding new and clever ways to cheat people out of their hard-earned money. While the scams are constantly changing, consumers need to be vigilant and recognize common scams. 

Here are the Top Ten Scams for BBB serving Upstate New York in 2013:

  • Microsoft/Computer Scams
  • Grant Scams
  • Medical Alert Scams
  • Spoofing Scams
  • Phony Directory Scams
  • Home Improvement Scams
  • Reseller Scams
  • Casting Call Scams
  • Do Not Call Scams
  • Scam of the Year: Affordable Care Act Scams

BBB offers more detail about our top scams:

Microsoft/Computer Scams: A phone scam that made the rounds and is back. A caller claims to be from Microsoft or a representative from another computer software company. The caller offers to solve a computer problem or sell a software license, in an effort to gain remote control of the consumer’s computer and later requests a fee for service. Always check out a company first and only hire trusted repair businesses. Microsoft does NOT make unsolicited phone calls for computer help.

Grant Scams: Consumers report unsolicited phone calls notifying they ‘won’ a grant but had to pay a fee in order to collect it. Grants do not have to be repaid; thus there is no need to use the word "free." Organizations do not usually give out grants for personal debt consolidation, or to pay for other personal needs. Grants are usually given only to serve a social good, such as bringing jobs to an area, training under-employed youth, preserving a bit of history, etc. Be wary if you are asked to provide money up-front to an unknown company before the company will provide the services promised.

Medical Alert Scams: With promises of a free medical alert system, this scam targets seniors and caretakers. It claims to offer a system “free” of charge because a family member or a friend “already paid for it.” In these cases, the senior or the caretaker is asked to give bank account information to verify their identity, and, as a result, many were charged a $35 service fee and had trouble getting refunded. Be wary of “free” offers that require personal information upfront and verify with the family member or friend who the caller said paid for the service.

Spoofing Scams: In this scam, con artists change the name on a caller ID. There are a variety of ploys but the technology allows them to pose as a business or local law enforcement agency. In one scenario scammers called and told the person on the other line that there is a warrant out for their arrest, but they can pay a fine to avoid criminal charges. The con artists only take wire transfers or pre-paid debit cards – always a red flag! Sometimes, these scams feel very personal, as the scammer may refer to a loan or other personal financial matter. It may be a lucky guess, but don’t be fooled into thinking you’re going to be arrested.

Phony Directory Scams: Scammers make cold calls to offices, often small businesses or churches. They ask the person answering the phone to “confirm” the address, telephone number, and other information, claiming it’s for an existing company listing in the yellow pages or a similar business directory that can also be online. The scammers then fire off a rapid series of questions they may record to verify your ‘purchase’ when a bill arrives a few weeks later. The scam works because fraudsters convince the person who picks up the phone that they’re just “verifying” an arrangement the company already has with the directory.

Home Improvement Scams: Home improvement scams are a constant - whether it is shoddy work from untrained or unlicensed company, or so called “invisible” repairs that are hard for consumers to detect on their own. This includes repairs to roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawl spaces, etc. Scammers may simply knock at your door offering a great deal because they were in the neighborhood, but many are turning to telemarketing, social media and email to reach consumers. BBB reminds consumers to check out home contractors at saying yes.

Reseller Scams: Scammers have figured out a way to fool sellers into shipping goods without receiving payment on websites such as eBay or Craigslist. The buyer will claim it’s an “emergency” and will ask the seller to ship the same day. The seller will receive an email that looks like it’s from PayPal, when in fact it is a fake. Before shipping anything, confirm with PayPal that payment for the item was sent.

Casting Call Scams:  This scam has been increasing the past few years, largely in part because of the popularity of shows such as “American Idol” and “Project Runway.” Scammers pose as agents or talent scouts looking for people for reality shows, etc. They use phony audition notices to fool aspiring performers into paying to try out for parts that don’t exist. There are several ways this scam is run. It can simply be an unscrupulous way to sell acting lessons, photography services, etc. or it can be an outright scam for things like fees for online applications or upcoming “casting calls.” The information provided on an online application can also be everything a scammer needs for identity theft.

Scam of the Year-Affordable Care Act Scams: Scammers are using the Affordable Care Act (“Obamacare”), as a way to fool Americans into sharing their personal information. Scammers call claiming to be from the federal government and saying the would-be victim needed a new insurance card or Medicare card. However, before they can mail the card, they need to collect personal information. Scammers do a lot to make their requests seem credible. For example, they may have your bank's routing number and ask you to provide your account number. Or, they may ask for your credit card or Social Security number, Medicare ID, or other personal information. But sharing personal information with a scammer puts you at risk for identity theft.

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