Better Business Bureau serving Eastern North Carolina identifies the top 10 scams and rip-offs of 2009.
“While many of these scams are perennial problems, some scams were distinct in 2009 because of the economic climate and scammers taking advantage of the top headlines,” said Beverly Baskin, President & CEO of BBB serving Eastern North Carolina. “Some of these scams plagued consumers both nationally and locally, but we received information on all of these scams from multiple consumers in Eastern North Carolina.”
Following, is BBB’s list of the top scams and rip-offs that took advantage of national and local consumers in 2009:
- Mystery Shopping – Consumers across Eastern North Carolina thought that they could make some extra money by becoming a secret shopper. The victims were asked to evaluate their shopping experience at stores as well as money wiring services such as Western Union or MoneyGram. They received a real-looking check to cover the costs, but it ended up being a fake. Victims were out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars. Many small businesses in Raleigh, Cary and Holly Springs were also victims of this scam, having their identity stolen and used on the fake checks, without their knowledge.
- Google Work from Home Scam – Web sites created by companies including Eco Venture Group, LLC, based in Raleigh, illegally misused the Google name and logo. The companies offered work at home opportunities if the consumer ordered a free trial of learning materials. Many people thought they were getting a job with Google when in, fact, they were being lured into another misleading free-trial offer and billed every month for materials and other mystery charges that added up to hundreds of dollars.
- Phishing e-mails/H1N1 spam – A perennial problem, phishing e-mails popped up in inboxes and appeared to be from PayPal, a government agency or official, or even a friend. The goal of any phishing e-mail was the same: to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware. In addition to phishing e-mails, spam e-mail selling wares to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus were particularly rampant in 2009.
- Over-Payment Scams – Over-payment scams typically targeted small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent, and sellers on classified sites like Craigslist. Typically the scammer pretended to be a customer, possible renter or interested buyer, respectively. The victim received a check for more than the amount requested. The scammers requested the check to be deposited and the additional amount to be wired elsewhere. Ultimately, the check was fake and the victims were wiring their own money back to scammers.
- “Free” Trial Offers – Ads offering “free” trials for teeth whiteners, anti-aging pills and other miracle supplements blanketed the Internet, including trusted Web sites of national news organizations. The marketing campaigns often falsely claimed an endorsement by Oprah, Rachel Ray and Doctor Oz. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB that the free trial actually cost them hundreds of dollars. Colon cleanse and Acai supplements were just two examples of these products that local consumers signed up for, falling victim to recurring monthly fees.
- Stimulus/Government Grant Scams –Before President Obama announced the stimulus plan in February, scammers had already set up schemes to mislead consumers and small business owners into thinking they could get a piece of the pie. Offers for worthless assistance and advice on how to get government grants bombarded consumers online, over the phone and via mail and e-mail. Grant writers operated in Raleigh at two different locations in 2009, charging high fees and never delivering on their promises.
- Advanced Fee Loan Scams - Victims nationwide received phone calls stating they were approved for loans for large amounts. In order to receive the loan, several monthly payments were required in advance, as “collateral” on the loan. Collecting money up-front, or advance fees, as a condition of credit approval is prohibited by the North Carolina General Statutes. These companies used bogus local addresses, requested fees to be wired to Canada, and consumers were out of hundreds of dollars. Three new companies operating the advanced fee loan scams appeared in Eastern North Carolina between June and December of 2009.
- Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue/Debt Assistance – Victims were paid hundreds of dollars up front to help them save their house from foreclosure or help them get out of credit card debt. Instead of receiving the assistance they desperately needed, they lost their own money. One Raleigh based company, Mortgage Help Services, lured in 22 local victims from Roxboro to Greenville before the company became inaccessible via phone, mail or email.
- Friend/Family in Distress – Also known as the Grandparent Scam, the victims received a call from someone posing as a friend or family member claiming that they had gotten into trouble or an accident. The victim was asked to wire money to the caller to pay for lawyer’s fees or to post bail. Seniors in Siler City and Raleigh were asked by these scam artists to wire thousands of dollars.
- Robocalls – Owning a cell phone or having a phone number on the do-not-call list did not help thousands of people across the US put a stop to harassing automated telemarketing calls in 2009. The robocalls falsely claimed that their auto warranty was about to expire or offered help in reducing their interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the FTC to increase restrictions on the practice in 2009.
BBB advises consumers to be cautious in 2010 of these scams. Always research a business with BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.
Consumers or small business owners victimized by a scam can contact their local BBB or file a complaint at www.bbb.org.