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What We Can Learn From The Top Scams Of 2009

The Better Business Bureau and other consumer organizations have published their list of Top Scams for 2009. It was interesting to review these lists and compare them against the e-mails we received last year at Christian  If you have fallen victim to one of these scams, or perhaps a scam that is not on the list, please use the space below to share your story. Government agencies are typically very slow to respond when a new scam is launched. The best thing that we can all do is to spread the word as quickly as possible on a new scam to prevent others from being victimized.

Top 10 Scams of 2009 As Compiled By The Better Business Bureau

   1. Work-At-Home schemes
   2. Credit Repair scams
   3. Grant Locating and Government Job-Finding offers
   4. Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue deals
   5. Check Collection scams
   6. Advance-Fee Lending
   7. Mystery Shopper offers
   8. Phony Directory solicitations
   9. "Free Trials" that are not free
  10. Phishing, Smishing, Fake E-Cards and other ways to obtain ID information

Several of these scams jump off the page for me, and are regularly reported to me by readers.

1. Work-at-home scams

With record breaking unemployment figures, this one does not surprise me at all. While it is very difficult to generalize, these scams almost always involve unrealistic promises of success.  The idea that you can start a business and begin making thousands of dollars per day instantaneously should be a tipoff that this is truly "too good to be true."  While it may be difficult in some cases to determine if a business opportunity is legitimate or not, it is very easy to check out the company behind the offer. Many scams require no more research than simply plugging in the company's name in Google to determine that it is a fraud. The opportunity for consumers to post their good and bad experiences online for everyone to read is one of the great benefits of the Internet. Checking with the Better Business Bureau where the company is located as well as the attorney general in their state are also excellent ways of completing your due diligence.

2. Mystery Shopper Offers

This is actually a very clever scam.  You see an ad offering to pay you to be a so-called mystery shopper. Your job is to patronize several retail establishments and report back about your experiences. The scam involves the company sending you a check that you will be asked to deposit in your bank account. This money is to be used to fund the expenses of your mystery shopping.  You will then be asked to wire a portion of this money to a bank outside of the United States. This is sometimes explained as a fee that the company needs to collect from you or that it is part of your first assignment to check out how a local bank handles such a transaction. There are several very variations on the scam, but they all have one thing in common; the check you receive is fake.  After you wire the money (usually to Canada) you will learn several days later that the check you deposited is a fraud and you are left holding the bag owing the bank several thousands of dollars.

3. Free Trials That Are Not Free

I probably received more complaints about this scam than any other. In fact, the Senate did a substantial investigation this year involving well-known companies such as 800 Flowers going along with this tactic. This scam takes many forms. For example, I was just in a local bookstore purchasing a book as a Christmas gift. The cashier offered to give me a free subscription to two magazines. I took an extra minute to read the fine print on the offer. The bottom line is that if I did not contact these magazines to cancel my trial within a six week period, I would end up being on the hook for a full subscription. These sort of "trial offers" seem to be everywhere, but especially on the Internet.

4.  Phishing

Phishing scams continue to work over and over again. The scam artist sends you an e-mail with a link in it. You click on the link and it appears that you have arrived at your regular bank website. Everything looks exactly the same as it typically does when you login. The only problem is that you are at what is called a cloned website. This is not really the website of your bank, but a phony look-alike designed to capture your username and password. Once you attempt to login, the scammer has all they need to clean out your account. This same scam can also be used to steal your login credentials for an online retailer, your Facebook account, or pretty much any site that has password protection. The only way to avoid this, is to never click on a link contained within an email as your means of navigating to a password protected website. Instead, delete the e-mail, open your Internet browser and navigate to the website on your own. Another step you can take to be sure you are actually at a legitimate site and not a copy, is to click on the security icon contained before or after the address window in your browser. See my demonstration below: 

What in the world is Smishing?  It is Phishing using text messages.  Smishers send you a text message on your phone as the bait to trick you into divulging your username and password.  Tell your kids about this at dinner tonight, they will be impressed that you know this.

5.  The Craigslist Rental Scam

This one did not make the BBB list, but is one that I heard about frequently in 2009.  It involved a scammer collecting rent deposits from multiple individuals on the same house.  Not only did they rent the same house in some cases more than 25 times, but they did not even own the house to begin with! A rather odd scam with a twist that the scammer was usually unable to show anyone the inside of the house and would meet with victims at a local restaurant and not at the property itself.


6.  The Grandparents Scam

Of all the scams, this one was the hardest to believe that it really worked.  The scammer calls an elderly individual and convinces them that they are their grandchild and in a desperate need for money.  The stories vary, but most involved a financial emergency such as being stranded at an airport, a car problem, etc…  After being convinced that this was really their grandchild, the elderly individual is instructed to send several thousand dollars through Western Union to help ‘rescue’ them.  Of course, you really have to wonder how a grandparent would not start asking questions and figure this one out more quickly… 

Helping you make the most of God’s money!

James L. Paris
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