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BBB Lists Top-10 Scams of the Year

Con artists never quit

By Silver Planet Staff

The Better Business Bureau has released its top-10 scam list for 2009. We’ve written about most of them before, so they may sound familiar.

  1. H1N1 scams: Consumers were contacted in a variety of ways in an effort to scare them into purchasing cures or other information to prevent getting the virus, commonly (but inaccurately) called swine flu.
  2. Memorabilia: With the election of President Obama and the death of Michael Jackson, 2009 provided great opportunities for scammers to sell memorabilia and collectibles commemorating these historic events. Unfortunately, most items were sold at inflated prices and had only sentimental value.
  3. Weight-loss pill free trial offers: Ads offering trial offers for acai or resveratrol weight-loss pills were all over the Internet. These ads were displayed on trusted Web sites of national news organizations, and the campaigns often claimed to be endorsed by celebrities such as Oprah and Rachel Ray. As with other “free trial offers,” the BBB received thousands of complaints from consumers that these free trial offers ended up costing them money they had not intended to spend.
  4. Phishing emails: These appeared to be sent from all types of government agencies and popped up in inboxes everywhere. The goal, of course, was the same: to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware.
  5. Mystery shopping: The ailing economy caused consumers to be especially vulnerable to secret shopper job offers. People were told they would be paid to secretly shop at a store and evaluate its customer service. In other instances, they were asked to wire money back to the scammers in order to evaluate a money-wiring service such as Western Union or MoneyGram. The victim would be sent an authentic-looking check that was supposed to cover the cost of doing business. Of course, the check was a fake, often leaving the victims responsible for the loss.
  6. Lottery scam: Scammers used the Publisher’s Clearing House name to send victims letters with false information to convince them they had won millions of dollars in a lottery that was actually nonexistent. In most cases, victims were required to wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers, supposedly to cover taxes or other bogus fees.
  7. Friend/family member in distress (also known as the Grandma Scam): The victim (often elderly) received a message from a “friend” or “family member” claiming to be outside the country and in trouble. The victim was asked to wire thousands of dollars to pay for lawyer’s fees or to post bail.
  8. Mortgage foreclosure rescue/debt assistance: Many families struggled this year to save their homes from foreclosure and/or get out of credit card debt. Scammers were quick to offer help. Victims were asked to pay hundreds of dollars up front for assistance they never received.
  9. Job hunter scams: With U.S. unemployment numbers in the double digits, scammers knew they had a large pool to prey on. One of the most popular scams required the job seeker to pay a fee in order to even be considered for a job. Other scams attempted to gain access to personal information such as bank account or Social Security numbers, under the guise of somehow evaluating a potential employee.
  10. Robocalls: Thousands of people across the country received automated telephone calls, often in spite of having their phone numbers on the Do Not Call Registry. These robocalls often claimed that the consumer’s auto warranty was about to expire or that a bank was offering to lower the interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the Federal Trade Commission to increasingly restrict the practice in 2009.

Published December 15, 2009

Silver Planet Staff

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