Every year, Better Business Bureau serving Central SC and Charleston receives thousands of reports from consumers who have been scammed … or from consumers who relied on a bad gut feeling and were able to dodge the scheme. Some scams are widespread, taking a lot of people for small amounts. Others are more narrowly focused but take individuals or families for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. BBB warns consumers to be on the lookout for the top ten summer scams of 2017.
1) With promises of a “free” medical alert system, this “Medical Alert Scam” targets seniors and caregivers by claiming to offer the system free of charge because a family member or friend has already paid for it. In many cases, seniors are asked to provide their bank account or credit card information to “verify” their identity, and as a result, were charged a $35 monthly service fee. The system, of course, never arrives, and seniors are left struggling to obtain a refund of the $35 monthly service fee. As an easy rule of thumb, the BBB advises consumers to be wary of “free” offers that require your personal information up front and urges individuals to always verify with the supposed friend or family member that they actually paid for the service before agreeing to accept it.
2) With social media being a prominent aspect of every day life, it comes as no surprise that scammers have infiltrated the systems for their benefit. In the “fake Facebook friend scam,” a person may receive a Friend Request on Facebook from someone they had already befriended. If the person accepts the friend request, they may have just friended a scammer.
A popular recent scam has been the theft of people’s online identities to create fake profiles, which can be used in a variety of ways such as through the Facebook lottery scam. Chances are, people have encountered this before in a spam email years ago. However, cybercriminals are constantly tweaking their scams to make them more believable and they’re doing all they can to trick the population into thinking the Facebook lottery is real. The BBB advises consumers and social media users to be careful on social media, keep privacy settings high, and don’t share confidential information. There is no true way to be sure that your Facebook friends are really your friends.
3) The third most popular scam involves online auction sites. Many people turn to EBay and other auctions sites to sell used items they no longer need, and relatively new electronics seem to do especially well. But scammers have figured out a way to fool sellers into shipping goods without receiving payment. Usually, the buyer claims it’s an “emergency” of some sort – a child’s birthday, a member of the military shipping out – and asks the seller to ship the same day.
The seller receives an email that looks like it’s from PayPal confirming the payment, but emails are easy to fake. The BBB suggests always confirming payment in your EBay and PayPal accounts before shipping, especially to an overseas address.
4) While the appeal of selling a timeshare is real, some of these potential buyers may not be. Some fraudulent operators target sellers of timeshares with promises they have a buyer ready to purchase the timeshare or assurances they can sell it. The timeshare scammer will require that the current owners pay up front fees for services, closing costs, maintenance, etc; however once they send the money, they never hear from the scammer again. Always remember to check with BBB before doing business, verify credentials, be wary of up front fees and don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true.
5) In perhaps one of the most prevalent scams currently, someone calls or emails an individual to congratulate them on winning the Canadian or Spanish lottery but the caller needs $5,000 for “delivery insurance.” To convince the individual that it’s legit, the caller directs you to the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau’s website.
The only problem is – the organization and the website are fake. The intended victim may call a number on that site to verify it, but the person who answers is also part of the scheme. After sending the $5000 “delivery insurance” fee, the unlucky winner never receives the promised winnings. The BBB warns that foreign lotteries are illegal and participation in one violates federal law.
6) Similar to the foreign lottery scam, an individual may receive a phone call from an 876 area code. The gentleman on the other end of the line is calling to say that the individual has won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, which consists of a large amount of money and a new Mercedes Benz. He makes promises that the prize patrol is waiting to deliver the new car and money, but first, the winner must purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak card and load it with the amount he advises to cover “taxes,” “processing fees,” and so on.
Once the individual calls the man back and gives him the Green Dot card number, they never hear from him again and the money is gone. No prize patrol, no sweepstakes money and no Mercedes Benz. The BBB reminds consumers that if you’ve won money or prizes, you should never send money to collect your winnings.
7) Playing on an individual’s fear is the driving force behind what BBB calls the “Arrest Warrant Scam.” In this scheme, con artists take advantage of technology that changes what is visible on Caller ID units and allows them to pose as the local sheriff, police or other law enforcement agency. The caller says there is a warrant out for your arrest, and that you can pay a fine in order to avoid criminal charges. Of course, the caller doesn’t take credit cards, only wire transfers or a pre-paid debit card will do. Sometimes these schemes seem very personal; the scammer may refer to a loan or other financial matter that sounds familiar to you. Don’t be fooled into thinking you are about to be arrested, and never provide personally identifiable information or banking information to unknown callers. Law enforcement officers would never call you to collect a debt nor would they call to let you know about an arrest warrant.
8) Utility bills are necessary for adequate shelter; therefore, this makes utility bills a prime opportunity for scammers. In this scam, an individual receives a phone call and the person on the other end of the line identifies himself as a representative from the local electric, water or gas company. He tells the consumer that they are late on their bill and need to pay immediately or the utilities will terminate.
Instead of accepting payment by credit card or check, the caller wants the consumer to pay with a Green Dot MoneyPak card, which allows the scammers to steal the funds and disappear. Utility companies will never call customers and threaten immediate service disconnection. A lengthy process takes place; typically involving multiple written notices to the customer advising the account is delinquent.
9) While government grants are available for a variety of uses, their uses typically don’t include personal needs. In this scam offering fake grant money, individuals receive a call from the government informing them that they’ve been approved to receive a federal grant to pay for home repairs, unpaid bills or for a much needed vacation.
In these schemes, the caller guarantees consumers a government grant and asks them to pay a fee for the grant service. This fee could be any amount, but it’s usually small enough in relation to the grant so as not to raise suspicion. Rather than supplying the consumer with the promised grant money, the scammer only sends a list of government agencies where grant applications can be obtained.
Most sources of grant money don’t give grants to individuals for personal need, even if they are financially needy, and anyone who guarantees a grant is likely to be interested in their own financial gain, not yours. Currently, this type of scam has been taking advantage of individuals with excessive student loan debt with the promise of a federal loan forgiveness grant.
10) In what the BBB calls a “Phone Spoofing Scam,” an individual’s phone starts ringing, so naturally they look down to check the caller ID. The name and number listed makes them do a double take. Apparently the caller is … themselves? Residents are reporting suspicious phone calls to BBB that, if their caller ID is to be believed, appear to be coming from their own phone number.
When they answer, either a recording or live person asking for personal information greets them. Other residents have reported a computerized voice claiming to have methods to lower credit card interest rates, which, of course, means they require a credit card number. The BBB urges consumers to not rely on caller ID. Scammers can use technology to make it appear as though their calls are coming from legitimate businesses or organizations or even your own home.
These are just a handful of scams that target consumers. Contact your Better Business Bureau to report fraud or to check into suspicious offers at (803)254-2525 • (843) 766-9616 or visit us online at bbb.org