Last year was a tough year for consumers with an unsteady economic recovery, elevated unemployment and numerous natural disasters, which means scammers also had a busy year.
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From scams designed to target those on the job hunt, to people taking advantage of homeowners trying to rebuild after a disaster, 2012 had its share of unscrupulous activities aiming to steal money from vulnerable consumers.
Here’s a look at five of the popular scams that made the Better Business Bureau’s 2012 list.
The Grandparent Scam
This scam isn’t new, but it remains a top concern because it is still very prevalent, according to the BBB. With this scam the victim gets an email or text from a grandchild, niece, nephew or friend who says he or she is traveling abroad and has been mugged and needs money wired right away. Wanting to help a loved one, the email recipient wires money to the person only to find out they never even left the country.
Social media has made this trick even more plausible because scammers can glean information about a person’s life and include it in an email. Before wiring any money to a distressed family member, the BBB recommends to check with the purported victim or his or her family to ensure they are really traveling.
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Mystery Shopping Scam
Getting paid to shop is a dream, but the old adage that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
According to the BBB, mystery shopping jobs are nothing more than an overpayment/fake check scam in disguise. A “company” will send the victim a check to be used for the specific mystery shopping—only the check bounces after being deposited and used for the shopping assignment. Some scammers will even tell a victim that part of the money has to be returned because evaluating the wire service company is part of the gig.
To protect yourself from being swindled, the BBB advises vetting all mystery shopping jobs through the Mystery Shopping Providers Association.
During the summer, when utility costs skyrocket, scammers pounced on consumers with emails, letters and door-to-door solicitations about a so-called government program that helps pay their utility bills. Consumers would be directed to register with an official looking website that required provide personal information including bank account numbers to help get federal assistance. Little did they know, no such program existed, it was just scammers tricking them into divulging personal information. Rule of thumb: never provide any sensitive information to someone that solicits you.
Fake Facebook Tweets
Even social media wasn’t immune to scams last year. In one designed to install malware on a PC or mobile device, users would get a direct message from a friend on Twitter about a video of them on Facebook. “ROFL they were taping you” or “What RU doing in this FB vid?” are typical tweets consumers would get and open in a panic. At this point, they would get an error message saying an update to their Flash media player was required and to click on this link to update it—except that link was a virus set to steal information from the PC or smartphone. According to the BBB, Twitter says to report the scam, reset your password and revoke connections to third party applications if you are a victim.
Sandy Storm Chasers
Every natural disaster brings scam artists out of the wood work to prey on devastate consumers. Dubbed “storm chasers” by the BBB, these people approach people to help fix damages whether it’s a tree removal or general home repairs. Some thieves took the money and never did the work while others were unlicensed, uninsured and lacked the skills to do the repairs, leaving even more destruction in their wake People who need a contractor can find one through the BBB at and avoid being scammed.