BBB’S TOP 10 SCAMS OF 2014
Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Vancouver Island announces the Top Ten Scams impacting our region in 2014, including consumer tips on how to identify these scams and what to do to protect yourself from becoming a victim in the new year.
1) Credit/Loan Scams
Many consumers applying online for personal loans found themselves victims of what is known as an advance fee scam. Victims were told they must wire money to cover an application fee, and/or to purchase insurance before receiving a financial loan. Once the money was wired to the lender, all contact with the lender ceased and no loan money was ever received by the victims.
Legitimate financial lenders will not require you to pay a fee or wire money for paperwork or insurance prior to getting a loan. Typically the cost of such fees is included in the total loan amount and is not an additional sum that you must pay up front in order to secure the loan.
2) Door-to-Door Handyman Scams
Homeowners were targeted by suspicious contractors, going door-to-door, using “limited opportunity” sales tactics and offering too good to be true verbal deals on home repair opportunities. The work completed by these “contractors” was of poor quality, often not properly completed, and once payment was made the contractors were nowhere to be found. Handyman services included but were not limited to: roof repair, painting, landscaping, paving and general home repairs.
Be aware that you get what you pay for. Legitimate, reputable contractors rarely sell their products or services door-to-door. Trustworthy contractors will provide you with a written estimate that should be valid for a reasonable and specific amount of time. Before hiring anyone to do any work on your home insist on a written contract outlining all the relevant details. Carefully read the fine print and be sure to check the contractor out at bbb.org before you hire them.
3) Vacation Prize Giveaway Scams
Automated phone recordings pretending to come from legitimate airlines, hotels or vacation booking agents lured consumers into believing they were eligible to win a vacation prize. A large range of listed, private unlisted and mobile phone numbers were targeted. When consumers tried to claim the prize they were connected to an operator that insisted on acquiring personal and credit card information in order to secure the winnings. No prize winnings were ever received.
Most legitimate airline, hotels and vacation booking agents do not participate in telemarketing promotions, solicitations or unsolicited prize giveaways. If you enter a contest to win a vacation prize give away, be sure to make note of the business offering the deal and the specifics of the offer. Be very cautious about how much private information you put on your entry form. You should never have to pay a fee to win a prize. Before giving out any personal information to “claim” a prize, ask to see the details of the prize in writing and carefully read the fine print. Some vacation prize giveaways may cost you more than you are willing to pay.
4) Computer Virus Telemarketing Scam
Telemarketers fraudulently claiming to represent Microsoft contact homeowners to inform them that their computer has been infected with a virus, which if not solved immediately will result in the computer becoming unusable. In order to “fix” the problem, the victim is directed to a website, asked to provide their credit card information as payment, and told to download an anti-virus program. In reality there is no computer virus, victims are giving out their credit card information to scammers, paying for an unnecessary service and downloading spyware onto their computer.
Treat all unsolicited phone calls with skepticism. Recognize that Microsoft or any other computer company does not know if your computer has a virus, and would not call you to tell you if it did. Never give out personal or banking information to anyone unless you are confident you can trust the source. Report fraudulent activity to your local BBB (250.386.6348) and the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (1.888.495.8501).
Many computer virus and phishing scams masquerade as the emails or websites of legitimate businesses and organizations. Using the logo and good name of reputable charities, non-profits, banks, government agencies and businesses, scam artists send out a variety of legitimate looking, but fake links designed for you to click on so that they can install malware on your computer or steal your private information (such as passwords and account information).
Never open an email, click on any links, or download any files unless you are certain you understand the reason you are receiving the email. If at any time you think you might have become the victim of a phishing or other computer, email or Internet scam have your computer scanned by a trusted computer repair professional to see if any malware is present.
6) Fake Debt Collection Scams
Beware telephone calls from scammers claiming to be debt collectors tracking down payment for loans never received or for loans that were received, but for amounts no longer owing. Callers sound legitimate and may already have your contact information, private banking and SIN number. Using aggressive and threatening tactics these fake debt collectors ask you to wire money or risk being sent to jail.
If you receive a questionable debt collection call inform the caller that you will not provide any information to them until you get a written notice clearly explaining how much money you owe and to whom it must be paid. If you are uncertain about an unpaid debt, contact the original lender. Find out if there is a balance due and if they have sent you to collections or not. Never wire money to pay a debt. Wire payments are virtually untraceable once they have been received.
7) Unauthorized Billing Scams
Both consumers and businesses found themselves victims of billing scams in which their credit card statements included minor charges for unknown products or services. Scammers, using the guise of a fake business charged stolen credit card numbers small amounts of money (under $10) assuming that most cardholders wouldn’t notice the relatively small charge.
Reduce your risk of credit card fraud by always reporting lost credit cards and incorrect charges on your bill to your financial institution. Carefully monitor your statements and compare purchases with printed receipts. If your credit card has been compromised have it replaced immediately. Always use extreme caution when purchasing products online or over the phone. Make sure the person you are dealing with is from a known and reputable company.
8) Counterfeit Drugs & Health Products
Many consumers are being lured by too good to be true print, television and online advertising for miracle drugs, eye care products and other health or beauty products that promise more than they deliver. Everything from diet pills, to flu vaccines, to prescription medications can be purchased online or by phone these days. Counterfeit products are rampant and it is difficult to know if the products you are purchasing are safe, effective, stored properly, are past their expiry date or really part of a multi-level marketing scheme.
Even though it can be more expensive the safest way to purchase drugs and health products is through the prescription or referral of a certified health care practitioner and from a local, known pharmacy or health store or supplier. Before you purchase drugs online or via phone be sure to do your research first to make sure the company and product are legitimate, effective and that you understand the risks associated with it. Be sure to record the name of the business, their street location, their phone number, and that you understand the terms of their refund and exchange policies.
9) Directory Invoice Scams
Local companies were aggressively targeted via fax and email with a fake invoice that appeared to be for advertising in a popular business directory. Businesses that paid the fake invoice, or filled the contact form attached, contractually agreed to purchase costly advertising in a virtually unknown online directory.
Both businesses and individuals need to carefully review every invoice and bill received to ensure they are from legitimate companies that you actually do business with. When signing any document or making any payment carefully read the fine print to make sure you understand the terms and conditions of the sale.
10) Trending Click Bait Scams
Scammers use popular or “trending” news and entertainment topics to trick consumers into clicking on fake links to videos, images and posts embedded in social media sites, on websites and in emails. The fake links often result in malicious viruses, malware and spyware being downloaded onto computers, tablets and smart phones. In some cases, the link takes you to what appears to be a login page to your own social media account, but really it is a fake page intended to steal your login information and to hack into your account.
Don’t take the bait. Stay away from promotions with phrases like “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” footage. Hover over a link to see it’s true destination. Before you click, mouse over the link to see exactly where the URL is intended to take you. Don’t click on links leading to unfamiliar websites. Be wary of links sent to you by friends. It is possible that the your friend is unintentionally sending you a dangerous link or their account might have been hacked. Install anti-virus software on all your computers and be sure to have your devices regularly scanned.
For more consumer and business tips you can trust, visit bbb.org/Vancouver-island.