Top 10 riskiest scams and how to protect yourself

Are you looking for a job? Be careful, you may be duped. The Better Business Bureau reports that employment scams were the riskiest scams of 2018. The BBB says job scams were the most dangerous because of the volume of reports, the number of people that fell for the scam and the median dollars lost.

“Consumers aren’t doing enough to protect themselves, but the good news is that the things they can do are not hard,” said Katherine Hutt, national spokesperson for the Better Business Bureau. “They just need to understand better what the scams are and the tactics that scammers use.”

Hutt shared the BBB’s 10 riskiest scams of 2018 and how consumers can protect themselves:

1) Employment scams

Employment scams were the riskiest scams of 2018. If you are applying for a job, make sure you use the company’s official website. Don’t click on any supposed job links in emails or social media posts. Hutt said employment scams are dangerous because unwitting job seekers may give fraudsters everything they need to commit identity theft: their address, birthday, Social Security number and bank account information. 

She also noted that employment scams are often used as a cover for fake check scams.

“They will hire you and then give you your first paycheck,” Hutt said. “You are supposed to then deposit that and use part of that money for some other purpose such as buying equipment or paying a fee. What happens is that the check is fake and it bounces.”

2) Online purchases

Hutt said it’s very easy to fake a website and make it look like a legitimate company. Consumers think they are buying a brand name product or a designer item. Instead, they are purchasing a cheap knockoff or nothing at all.

“The best way to prevent online scams is to do your homework and understand who you are buying from,” she said. “Do some research, especially if you are buying from a site for the first time. Be cautious when you click through on links.  And watch out for things that sound too good to be true.”

3) Fake checks/money orders

You are selling a car, a couch or some other large item on Craigslist. The buyer sends you a check larger than the amount you both agreed to. They apologize for the mistake and ask you to wire them the difference. You send the money to them. Days later you find out that the original check was fake and you are out of that money.

“A cashier’s check or money order can sometimes take as long as ten days to two weeks to clear,” said Hutt. “So it’s really important if you are in that situation, to not spend the money until you are certain that the money is free and clear. Otherwise, you are going to owe for it. You will owe whatever overdraft you have at your bank.”

4) Home improvement

A man knocks on your door. He says he is in the area working on a construction project. He has supplies left over from the job and offers you a deal. You put down a deposit. He says he will come back with the materials you purchased but never returns. Hutt says doing a little bit of research can save you a lot of headaches.

“When you are having home improvements done, you really want to make sure the person is properly licensed, properly trained and that they have the right permits,” she said. “That’s the time that you really don’t want to cut corners.”

5) Advanced fee loans

With an advanced fee loan, a lender approves your loan and then asks you to pay a fee before you receive the money. 

“That’s usually illegal,“ Hutt said. “Anytime somebody wants to take money from you before they give you money, that’s a pretty big red flag that it’s a scam.”

6) Romance scams

Romance scams prey on people’s emotions. Fraudsters reach out to unsuspecting people on dating sites and social media and quickly develop what feels like a real relationship.

“The biggest difference is that you never actually meet your romantic partner,” Hutt said. “One of two things happens. They are traveling overseas and their passport or wallet has been stolen. They then ask you to wire the money to them.”

She says scammers may also ask you to move money for them.

“They say I’m getting money from this source and I need you to pick it up, take it here and then wire it to me,” Hutt said. “That is essentially money laundering. They are using you as a money mule to cut down on the tractability of the money. If you even suspect there is something wrong and you still do it, you could be criminally liable.”

7) Tech support scams

Thieves masking themselves as Apple, Google or Microsoft may alert you via a pop-up or email that something is wrong with your computer.  At work, scammers may pretend to be your employer's human resources or IT department. The crooks try to entice you to click on a link or sign up for something.

If you suspect a tech support scam, Hutt’s advice is to contact the person you bought the computer from, your ISP or your employer.

“They will often ask for payment for a repair plan or maintenance agreement,” she said. “In some more nefarious cases, they will download malware on your computer that will basically lock your computer and then they will hold it for ransom. It’s called ransomware. They say if you don’t pay us whatever amount of money, we will delete all of your files. This is a real thing.”

8) Investment scams

Investment scammers pretend to work for a well-known financial services company. Once they develop a friendship with you, they tell you about an investment that just can’t be missed.

“They try to make you make a decision before you’ve had time to think or ask a family member, friend or financial adviser,” she said. “The best thing to do is your homework.  Check out the investment. Check out the person who is asking you to invest. FINRA, which is the financial industry regulatory authority, has some good information on that.”

9) Travel/vacations scams

If it sounds too good to be true, chances are it is. Scammers will try to sell you a timeshare, all-inclusive, hotel, resort or cruise vacation/travel package that is made out to be better than it is, oversold or nonexistent. Hutt said the average dollar loss for travel/vacation scams is $1,900.


“Is the price significantly lower than what you see on other sites? It’s definitely worth doing your research before you click yes or give your credit card information to someone,” she said.

10) Government grant scams

The government will not give you grant money unless you applied for it. If you have received an email or phone call saying you are eligible for a government agency grant, Hutt says it’s most likely fake. 

“It’s easy to impersonate a legitimate agency,” she said. “It’s easy to make up a program that sounds like one you’ve heard of before. In the case of government grants, we see scammers following the news. Being opportunistic and talking about whatever programs have been getting news coverage recently.”

Linda Bell joined FOX Business Network (FBN) in 2014 as an assignment editor. She is an award-winning writer of business and financial content.  You can follow her on Twitter @lindanbell