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Phishing, other scams round out BBB's Top 10

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The Better Business Bureau has selected its Top 10 scams of 2011 and released an online resource at BBB.org/scam to help businesses protect themselves against fraud.

The most prevalent scams are divided by category below.

Top job scam
BBB sees many secret shopper schemes, work-from-home scams and other phony job offers, but the worst job-related scam can steal one’s identity. E-mails, Web sites and online applications can look very professional. Candidates are even interviewed for the jobs, usually by telephone, and then made offers. Candidates then are asked to fill out a “credit report” or provide bank information for direct deposit of their “paychecks.” The online forms are nothing more than a way to capture sensitive personal data – Social Security numbers, bank accounts, etc. – that can easily be used for identity theft. And, of course, there is no job, either.

Top sweepstakes and lottery scam
Sweepstakes and lottery scams come in all shapes and sizes, but the bottom line is almost always: “You’ve won a whole lot of money, and in order to claim it, you have to send us a smaller amount of money. Oh, and keep this confidential until we’re ready to announce your big winnings.” This year’s top sweepstakes scam was undoubtedly the e-mail claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announcing that the recipient was the winner of $1 million from the popular social networking site. These scams often use celebrities or other famous names to make the offers seem more genuine. If unsure, don’t click the link but instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned. If it really is a $1 million giveaway, there will be an announcement on the Web site.

Top social media/online dating scam
There are myriad ways to use social media for scams, but one this year stands out because it appeals to natural curiosities, and it sounds like it’s coming from a friend. Viral videos claiming to show everything from grisly footage of Osama bin Laden’s death to the latest celebrity high jinks have shown up on social media sites, often looking as if they have been shared by friends. When clicking the link, users are prompted to upgrade the Flash player. But the downloaded file contains a worm that logs into your social media account, sends similar messages to your friends and searches for your personal data.

Top home improvement scam
Always near the top of BBB complaint data are home improvement contractors who often leave homes worse than they found them. They usually knock on the door with a story or a deal – the roofer who can spot some missing shingles on the roof or the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give a great deal on driveway resealing. Itinerant contractors move around, keeping a step ahead of the law. The worst are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help and may not be as suspicious as they would be under normal circumstances.

Top check-cashing scam
Two legitimate companies – Craigslist and Western Union – are used for an inordinate amount of scamming these days, and especially check-cashing scams. Here’s how it works: Someone contacts you via a Craigslist posting, maybe for a legitimate reason like buying an old couch, or perhaps through a scam like hiring you as a secret shopper. Either way, they send you a check for more than the amount owed, and they ask you to deposit it into your bank account and send them the difference via Western Union. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces, you are out whatever money you wired – and you’re still stuck with the old couch.

Top phishing scam
“Phishing” comes in the forms of suspicious phone calls seeking personal information or e-mails that download viruses to hunt for personal data. The most pernicious phishing scam this year disguised itself as official communication from the National Automated Clearing House Association, which facilitates the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions a year. The e-mail claims a transaction did not go through, and it hopes the recipient reacts quickly and clicks on the link before thinking it through. It may take the user to a fake banking site to “verify” account information, or it may download malware to infiltrate a computer.

Top identity theft scam
There are seemingly a million ways to steal someone’s identity. This one has gotten so prevalent that many hotels are posting warnings in their lobby. Here’s how it works: You get a call in your hotel room in the middle of the night. It’s the front desk clerk, very apologetic, saying their computer has crashed and they need to get your credit card number again, or they must have gotten the number wrong because the transaction won’t go through. They ask you to read the number back so they can fix the problem. Scammers are counting on you being too sleepy to catch on that the call isn’t from the hotel, but from someone outside who knows the direct-dial numbers for the guest rooms. By the time morning rolls around and you are clear-headed, your credit card has been on a major shopping spree.

Top financial scam
In challenging economic times, many people seek help to get out of debt or to hang on to their homes, and almost as many scammers appear to take advantage of desperate situations. Because the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs this year, all kinds of sound-alike Web sites have popped up to try to fool consumers into parting with their money. Some sound like a government agency, or even part of BBB or other nonprofit consumer organizations. Most ask for an upfront fee.

Top sales scam
Sales scams are as old as humanity, but the Internet has introduced a whole new way to rip off people. Penny auctions are very popular offering something useful – cameras, computers, etc. – for way below retail. Users pay a small fee for each bid, usually 50 cents to $1. Winners often are not even the top bidder, just the last bidder when time runs out. Although not all penny auction sites are scams, some are being investigated as online gambling.[[In-content Ad]]

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