Better Business Bureau hears from thousands of consumers and business owners every year about a variety of scams and frauds. Many are new twists on existing scams, but scammers get more sophisticated every year in how they spoof trusted names and how they fool consumers.
While BBB doesn’t have specific numbers about how many people were defrauded or for how much, here are the scams we think were most pervasive this past year:
#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 Click Bait Scam: This one takes many forms, but the most notorious of the past year was when the Malaysian Airline plane went missing (“click here for video”). Other click bait schemes use celebrity images, fake news, and other enticing stories to get you to unintentionally download malware.
#8 Robocall Scam: The notorious “Rachel from Cardholder Services” made a resurgence in 2014. This scam claims to be able to lower your credit card interest rates and takes personal information—including your credit card number—and then charges fees to your card.
#7 Government Grant Scam: You get a call saying you’ve been awarded a government grant for thousands of dollars. It may even mention a program you’ve heard about in the news. They say all you have to do to collect your grant is pay a couple hundred in fees by wire transfer or prepaid debit card.
#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.
#5 Medical Alert Scam: Another one that preys on older folks. You get a call or a visit from a company claiming a concerned family member ordered you a medical alert device in case you have an emergency. They take your credit card or banking information but you never receive anything.
#4 Copycat Website Scam: You get an email, text message or social media post about a terrific sale or exciting new product. You click through and it looks just like a popular retailer’s site. But when you order, you either get a cheap counterfeit or nothing at all… and now they have your credit card number!
#3 “Are You Calling Yourself?” Scam: Scammers can make a call look like it’s coming from anywhere. The latest trick puts your number in the Caller ID, which piques your curiosity and gets you to pick up the phone or return the call and then they’ve snagged you in whatever scam they are running.
#2 Tech Support Scam: You get a call or a pop-up on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton, or Apple) 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 in the United States or the CRA in Canada). 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.
Why Scams Work:
There is a science to scams, and it may surprise you to know that scammers use many of the same techniques as legitimate sales professionals. The difference, of course, is that their “product” is illegal and could cost you a fortune. Here are the major techniques they use to draw you in:
Establishing a connection: The scammer builds rapport and a relationship with you. This is usually used face-to-face, as in home improvement scams and many investment scams, but also online romance scams.
Source credibility: The scammer uses techniques to make themselves look legitimate, such as fake websites or hacked emails that come from a friend’s account. Most email phishing scams spoof real companies, and many scammers pretend to be someone they are not in order to add credibility.
Playing on emotions: Scammers rely on emotion to get you to make a quick decision before you have time to think about it. An emergency situation or a limited time offer is usually their methodology. They count on emotional rather than rational decision-making.
What You Can Do:
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.
Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.
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.
For more information:
For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scam Stopper (bbb.org/scam). Sign up for our weekly Scam Alerts to learn about new scams when we do. You can report scams here, too.