There's no doubt the struggling economy has lead to a boom in scams and rip offs. The Better Business Bureau has released its Top 10 Scams for the year.
Topping the list is H1N1 scams. The BBB says that's because so many people are worried about getting sick and scammers are seeing fake cures and prevention products.
Other scams on the list include memorabilia rip offs, fake pleas from family members in distress and the in your face weight loss pill trial offers. "I've been on the Internet with that one before, and they're not free you still have to do shipping and handling," said Candice Jones.
"Where the needs are is where the scams are," said Carol Odell the executive director of the BBB in Colorado Springs. "They [scammers] know people will fall for it because they're needy, they're vulnerable."
As usual, the best ways to avoid being scammed is to make sure you ask questions and always read the fine print. Also, when buying things online, the BBB says use a credit card instead of your debit card.
1. H1N1 Scams: Consumers were contacted in a variety of ways in an effort to scare them into purchasing cures or essential information to prevent getting the H1N1 virus.
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 E-mails: Phishing e-mails appearing to be sent from all types of government agencies popped up in in-boxes everywhere. Whatever the setup, the goal of any phishing email is the same; to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware.
5. Mystery Shopping: Due to our ailing economy, consumers across the country were especially vulnerable to secret shopper job offers. Consumers were told they would be paid to secretly shop at a store and evaluate its customer service. In other instances, victims 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 is sent an authentic looking check that is supposed to cover the cost of doing business. Of course, the check is a fake and the victims is responsible for the loss.
6. Lottery Scam: Victims received letters in the mail from companies proporting or pretending to be the official Publisher’s Clearing House or another supposed lottery, and were told they had won millions of dollars. The only catch is that the victim was required to wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers supposedly to cover taxes or other bogus fees.
7. Friend/Family in Distress: Also known as the Grandma Scam, the victim receives a message from a “friend” or “family” member claiming they are outside of the country and have gotten into trouble. The victim is asked to wire thousands of dollars to pay for lawyer’s fees or to post bail. This scam cropped up on Facebook this year.
8. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue/Debt Assistance: Many families have 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 unemployment numbers in the U.S. in the double digits, scammers know they have a large pool to prey on. One of the most popular scams is to require the job seeker to pay a fee in order to even be considered for a job. Other scams attempt 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 receive automated telephone calls, often in spite of having their phone numbers on the do-not-call list. The 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 FTC to increasingly restrict the practice in 2009.