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Top 10 scams of 2013

The following is the Top Ten Scams list compiled by the BBB, British Columbia Securities Commission, Consumer Protection BC, the Competition Bureau of Canada, the RCMP and the Vehicle Sales Authority. The them is “just in case a scam is around the corner,” and explores how even something professional or convincing may not live up to its promises. Things can go sideways, and just in case, here are some tips even a savvy consumer can use.

1. TOP ADVERTISING SCAM: ADVERTISING TROLLS

Consumers posting ads to free online listings like Craigslist to sell a vehicle are the target of unlicensed telemarketing companies. These companies are trolling through online ads to find someone to make a quick buck from. Companies often guarantee to sell vehicles quickly and promise a money-back guarantee. Problem is that these guaranteed vehicle brokers rarely sell your vehicle, rarely provide refunds, and only post your own ad to other free online listings - charging you a $500 fee for things you probably could do yourself for free.

2. TOP LOVE SCAM: ONLINE ROMANCE SCAMS

You meet the person virtually through a social networking or dating site. Your online romance scammer builds a relationship, sometimes spending several months in building a rapport online with the intention of making you feel that you are in a romantic relationship. The person you met online turns out to be criminal who typically says that they are in a far away country and that they eventually want to meet the victim in person. Around this time, the criminal will note that they can’t afford to travel and will seek assistance from you in covering travel costs. Sometimes there’s an emergency, a sick family member for example, and that they need financial help from you to visit the sick individual. Of course, the requests for help are all a scam and the money wired by the victim, often in very large amounts, is now in the hands of the criminal.

Warning signs of a romance gone wrong: Someone has claimed to have fallen in love with you quickly. That person wants to immediately leave the dating site to use instant messaging or email. They claim to be from the U.S. or Canada but they are working overseas. They’ve asked you for money or to cash a cheque. They are coming to visit you soon but an event prevents them from visiting. They have no close family or friends to turn to when they need help.

3. TOP ONLINE SCAM: INTERNET INVESTMENT FRAUD

Online financial fraudsters send e-mail spam, or they approach you on a social media website or in a web forum. An internet advertisement may also lead you to a website, designed to gather your personal information, which they will use to approach you directly or to steal your identity.

Things to remember: Don’t expect to get rich quick. Be careful with your personal information. Don’t be lured by claims of ‘insider information’. Delete and block spam emails. Do your own research. Make sure you get all the information you need before you invest (don’t be rushed into an investment). Keep printed copies of all correspondence and investment information.

4. TOP FINANCIAL SCAM: AFFINITY FRAUD

When a scam artist targets a group of people who know each other, it is called an affinity fraud. The investment schemes they promote may change or vary over time, but the methods they use to target groups are often the same. To be successful, scam artists need to earn the trust of an influential person in a group, family, or workplace. Once they establish this bond (and this can take time), they use this connection to get their hands on the money of other people in the group. In some cases, they may even pay the influencer to help them out, never telling the person that the investment is really a scam.

Warning signs include: A new group member starts talking about wealth-building investments. The person pitching the investment uses your ethnicity, religion, occupation, or anything else they claim to have in common with you to gain your trust. Request to keep quiet about the investment because it is exclusive or only available to ‘those in the know.’

Go to: www.investright.org, to learn more investment red flags.

5. TOP SALES SCAM: CURBERS

Curbers, or unlicensed used-car “traffickers,” often acquire junk cars and then sell them from parking lots or curbsides. They advertise through local newspapers and online ads. Later, the used car you bought privately may turn out to have a liens against it, the VIN (vehicle identification number) number switched, or the odometer rolled back. In some cases, the car turns out to be stolen.

Report the curber and find a licensed dealer at www.vehiclesalesauthority.com.

6. TOP HOME IMPROVEMENT SCAM: ROGUE DOOR TO DOOR CONTRACTORS

While some door to door sales have legitimate offers for you, beware of the rogue door to door operators who come unsolicited and promises deals that are too good to be true. These types of offers include, a deal to seal or repave your driveway, a roofer with left over material from a previous job, a furnace repair that you didn’t schedule or a gas fireplace “inspection”.  These fraudulent “contractors” use high pressure sales tactics and offers of a onetime deal to entice or frighten consumers into expensive and often unnecessary home repairs.

Direct sales (door-to-door) contracts are regulated in BC and you have 10 days to cancel by advising the company.   For more information on direct sales, contact Consumer Protection BC at 1-888-564-9963 or visit www.consumerprotectionbc.ca

7.TOP COMPUTER SCAM: COMPUTER VIRUS FIXING SCHEME

This scam starts when you receive a call with a warning that your computer has been infected with a virus and an offer to clean your computer.  What is really happening in this computer virus fixing scheme?  The scammer is trying to gain remote access to your computer and get your credit card information. The scammer will say they need remote access to provide the supposed services, and will ask for your computer passwords and related information. They will also ask for your credit card information, so they can be billed for the supposed services.

Do not click on pop-up advertisement offering anti-virus services.  Never give an unsolicited caller access to your computer. Always buy this software from a legitimate vendor you trust.

8.TOP YOUTH SCAM: TWISTED TEXT PRIZES

You receive a text message. When you open it, you are surprised by a message informing you that you’ve won a major retailer’s gift card. You just need to go to a website and enter a PIN, and the card is yours. You are asked to enter the PIN and an email address. Then, you are taken to a form and instructed to fill out your name, cell number, mailing address and answer unrelated personal questions, such as “Are you interested in going back to school?” and “Are you diabetic?” When you reach the page to “claim your gift card,” you instead find yourself directed to another site to apply for a credit card. In the end, you never receive a credit card and you have given out personal information.

Ignore instructions to text “STOP” or “NO” to prevent future texts. This is a common ploy by scammers to confirm they have a real, active phone number. Forward the texts to 7726 (SPAM on most keypads). This will alert your cellphone carrier to block future texts from those numbers. If you think your text message is real, be sure it’s directing to a web address and not just a seemingly similar website name.

9.TOP BUSINESS SCAM: PRETENDER INVOICES

The “pretender scheme” is when scammers send you an invoice or bill requesting payment for goods or services. These invoices may state that you are past the due date for payment and threaten that non-payment will affect your credit rating. The invoices are fake and are for goods or services you haven't ordered or received. For example, you might be sent an invoice for a domain name that is very similar to your current domain name or for a small amount of stationery. The scammer hopes that you don't notice the difference and just pay the invoice.

Report any bogus invoice schemes to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre: www.antifraudcentre.ca

10.SCAM OF THE YEAR: BBB FAKE COMPLAINT EMAIL

The BBB phishing scam. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gotten emails that very much look like an official notice from BBB. The subject line says something like “Complaint Against Your Business,” and the instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus is launched on their computer…a virus that can steal banking information, passwords and other critical pieces of information needed for cyber-theft.

BBB is working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of these emails, and has already shut down dozens of hijacked websites. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If your computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned, as well.

BBB and partners will be using the Twitter hashtag #justincase to provide helpful tips to arm you with the knowledge on how to spot scams. Add your own tips using the same hashtag #justincase.

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