From the classics to the innovative, this Top 10 list includes the most popular scams and fraud schemes of the year with some new additions to look out for in the coming months.
#10 Sweepstakes scam: You’ve won a contest! Or the lottery! Or the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes! All you have to do to claim your prize is to pay some fees or taxes in advance so they can release your prize …. This is not a new scam, but it is a perennial problem.
#9 Romance scam: Romance scammers contact their victims through online dating websites, or sometimes Facebook. They will quickly request to communicate outside of the avenue in which you met, either through personal email or text messaging. These scammers will start by asking for a small favor in order to gauge whether the victim will be likely to help in the inevitable emergency that will occur in the future and require a much larger sum of money that they will request be sent by Western Union or Money Gram.
#8 Secret Shopper jobs: Scammers use newspaper ads and emails to create the impression that mystery shopping jobs are a gateway to a high-paying job with reputable companies. Also, they often send notices through the mail with a check (fake) included to wire to an unnamed company and to pay you for your first job. If an opportunity is on the up and up, you won’t have to pay an application fee or deposit a check and wire money on to someone else.
#7 Medicare/health care scam: Someone may call and pose as a Medicare representative to get your personal information, such as your Medicare number. They will bill Medicare for bogus products or services that you never qualified for or in most cases never received. Be sure to keep an eye on your Medicare Summary Notices to catch such errors, abuse, and fraud. Report any suspicious behavior to the Texas Senior Medicare Patrol at 888-341-6187.
#6 Emergency scam: This one is sometimes called the “grandparent scam” because it often preys on older consumers. You get a call or email from your grandchild or other relative who was injured, robbed or arrested while traveling overseas and needs money ASAP. Do not send money.
#5 “Risk-free” trial offers: You’ve seen them on the television and Internet: ads or links claiming these “miracle” products will help you lose weight easily, combat wrinkles or whiten teeth. You may be enticed to try these products through a “risk-free” trial offer, however many people fail to look at the fine print where you discover you have only 14 days to receive, evaluate and return the product before being charged $100 or more for monthly shipments. A tip on free trials: If you have to enter a credit card number for something “free,” that’s a red flag.
#4 Utility company scams: These scams vary but often include one of the following situations. Your safest course of action to avoid getting caught up in one of these scams is to not open your door or respond to emails/phone calls from strangers.
Utility scams happen when fraudulent utility companies hire and train door-to-door sale representatives to come to your home and convince you they can save you money on your electricity or gas bill. They will either try to gain access to your account information to switch your service without permission, or offer low-low rates for the first couple of months then hit you with a steep price hike.
Scammers often use emails and phone calls stating there are problems with your utility account and they will be shutting off your service immediately. This is often a ploy to get your personal information, like credit card numbers or Social Security numbers. Get the telephone number from your last bill and check whether it’s real or not. Do not use the phone number listed in the email or click the link provided.
#3 Phone scams:
Neighborhood spoofing: is a tactic in which fraudsters show up as a local number on your caller ID by matching the first six digits of your number. It is estimated that nine in 10 scam calls will come from a familiar area code in 2019.
Robocall scam: Scam calls are getting more frequent — and quickly. In 2019, nearly half of all calls to mobile phones will be fraudulent. Robocalls will always give you the option to be removed from their call list by pressing a certain number. Hang up and do not press anything. This will only confirm that there is a live person on the other end of the phone and they will keep calling back. Consumers should contact their mobile phone carriers and use the services/apps they provide.
#2 Tech support scam: You get a call or a pop-up on your computer claiming to be from a well-known computer or software company about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.
And the top scam of the year, because it’s just so terrifying, is:
#1 Arrest scam: You receive an ominous phone call from someone claiming to be a police officer or government agent (often the IRS). They are coming to arrest you for overdue taxes or for skipping out on jury duty, but you can avoid it by sending them money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. Another variation on this is that you’ll be arrested for an overdue payday loan. Whatever the “violation,” it’s scary to be threatened with arrest, and many people pay out of fear.
These are the scams that have been proven to be successful year after year, because scammers are professionals who have tried and true techniques to swindle you for big bucks. They do things like build relationships and connections and play on your emotions to get you to make hasty decisions, and they often go through extensive measures to make themselves appear credible. Remember, they are actual pros at what they do.
Avoiding the scam rules to live by:
Don’t be pressured into making fast decisions.
Take time to research the organization. Check them out on bbb.org, search online, etc.
Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.
If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business from the number on your bill or the back of your credit card. Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.
Never send money for an emergency situation unless you’ve been able to verify the emergency.
Feel free to call with any questions to 713-341-6141.
Written by Melissa Ramsey. Ramsey is the BBB Education Foundation columnist. For more information, call 713-341-6141. Click here for more scam tips.
The Better Business Bureau Education Foundation of Metropolitan Houston has joined the fight against Medicare Fraud with the implementation of their Senior Medicare Patrol program. Otherwise known as the Texas SMP, the Senior Medicare Patrol is a group of volunteers trained to educate and inform Medicare beneficiaries on how to combat fraud and waste of their Medicare dollars. This is a national program funded through a federal grant awarded by the Administration on Aging, www.smpresource.org.