DETROIT - The Ruth to the Rescue unit is always looking out for scams to help protect your money. The local Better Business Bureau just came out with its list of the most common scams of 2012.
Before we get to the list, we urge you to remember some of the common themes of all scams artists. They very often offer you something that sounds too good to be true, out of the blue. Always remember, if you didn't enter a contest, didn't fill out a job application, or aren't expecting a delivery, you rarely suddenly win a contest, get a job, or have a delivery stuck somewhere. Those scenarios are all types of schemes to grab your interest, and try to get your money.
Also, you should never have to pay money to win money, and double-check any offers that come in emails from seemingly reputable companies. Call the company at a legitimate number to check on the offer, it's probably a scam.
Keeping all those themes in mind, you'll notice a common thread through many of the most common scams from last year. The descriptions of the scams are provided by the Better Business Bureau.
Top Emergency Scam: Grandparents Scam
The "Grandparents Scam" has been around a while, but it's still so prevalent we need to mention it again: grandchild/niece/nephew/friend is traveling abroad and calls/texts/emails to say he or she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money right away ("…and please don't tell mom and dad!"). Plus the FBI says that, thanks to social media, it's getting easier and easier for scammers to tell a more plausible story because they can use real facts from the supposed victim's life ("Remember that great camera I got for Christmas?" "I'm in France to visit my old college roommate."). Easy rule of thumb - before you wire money in an emergency, check with the supposed victim or their family members to make sure they really are traveling. Odds are they are safe at home.
Top Employment Scam: Mystery Shopping
If you love to shop, working as a secret shopper may sound like an ideal way to supplement your income. But scammers have figured that out, too, and many job offers are nothing more than a variation on the Overpayment/Fake Check Scam (above). Sometimes they even tell you that evaluating the wire service company is part of the job, which is why you need to send back part of the money. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says it's not the practice of their members to pre-pay shoppers, but if you have your heart set on this type of job, you can find a legitimate gig through their website at www.mysteryshop.org.
Top Phishing Scam: President Obama Will Pay Your Utility Bills
Of all the politically-related scams, this one seemed to be the most prevalent. At the peak of summer with utility costs soaring, consumers got emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a "new government program" to pay your utility bills. Hey, the president wants to get re-elected, right? Maybe he's just trying to win votes. Victims "registered" with an official-looking website and provided everything scammers needed for identity theft purposes, including bank account information.
Top Sweepstakes/Lottery Scam: Jamaican Phone Lottery
This is an old one that flared up again this year. We consider it flattering (in a weird way) that BBB is such a trusted brand that we "star" in so many scams! In this one, the calls come from Jamaica (area code 876) but the person claims to represent BBB (or FBI, or other trusted group). Great news: you've won a terrific prize (typical haul: $2 million and Mercedes Benz) but you have to pay a fee in order to collect your winnings. There are lots of variations on this; sometimes it's a government grant. Best just to hang up and then file a phone fraud report with the appropriate government agency (see below).
Top Identity Theft Scam: Fake Facebook Tweets
Two top social media sites were exploited in one of this year's top scams. You get a Direct Message from a friend on Twitter with something about a video of you on Facebook ("ROFL they was taping you" or "What RU doing in this FB vid?" are typical tweets). In a panic, you click on the link to see what the embarrassing video could possibly be, and you get an error message that says you need to update Flash or other video player. But the file isn't a new version of Flash; it's a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone. Twitter recommends reporting such spam, resetting your password and revoking connections to third-party applications.
To read about more of the most common scams, and see how the Better Business Bureau is fighting scam artists, follow this link.
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