Bye bye, money: A new map of Scamalot

The Better Business Bureau Canada has released a warning about the top 10 scams you might encounter in 2013

It seems like everyone is getting used to picking up the phone to hear the whistle of a cruise ship with an offer for a free trip, or the chance to clean up your Microsoft computer – both things that sound suspicious and too good to be true.

Most people recognize these calls or emails as a scam, but money is still being gleaned from vulnerable members of society year after year.

The Canadian branch of the Better Business Bureau (BBB) has released its top 10 list of the most prevalent money-grabbing schemes of the year.

This year’s theme is “just in case a scam is around the corner,” and the BBB is offering tips for even the most business savvy consumers.

This year the list was developed by the BBB, BC Securities Commission, Consumer Protection BC, the Competition Bureau of Canada, the RCMP and the Vehicle Sales Authority.

The top advertising scam is advertising trolls, who troll websites like Craigslist offering to sell the item you have listed for a fee.

“These companies are trolling through online ads to find someone to make a quick buck from. Companies often guarantee to sell vehicles quickly and promise a money-back guarantee. Problem is that these guaranteed vehicle brokers rarely sell your vehicle, rarely provide refunds, and only post your own ad to other free online listings – charging you a $500 fee for things you probably could do yourself for free,” writes the BBB.

They encourage sellers who are contacted by a company claiming to be able to sell your vehicle or nick-nack to check them out on the BBB.org website before committing.

Online dating can be a great way to meet someone special – but unfortunately scammers are well aware of that.

“Your online romance scammer builds a relationship, sometimes spending several months in building a rapport online with the intention of making you feel that you are in a romantic relationship,” the BBB says.

And eventually, the person, who claims to be in a far away country, needs money from you to meet for the first time.

“Around this time, the criminal will note that they can’t afford to travel and will seek assistance from you in covering travel costs. Sometimes there’s an emergency, a sick family member for example, and they need financial help from you to visit the sick individual.”

It all ends with a broken heart and bank account, after the money is wired. The BBB says the following are signs that your new romance is too good to be true:

• Someone has claimed to have fallen in love with you quickly.

• That person wants to immediately leave the dating site to use instant messaging or email.

• They claim to be from the U.S. or Canada but they are working overseas.

• They’ve asked you for money or to cash a cheque.

• They are coming to visit you soon but an event prevents them from visiting.

• They have no close family or friends to turn to when they need help.

The next scam targets the wallet and those with an entrepreneurial spirit. Investment fraud targets victims through social media or a web ad. Eventually your identity is stolen. The BBB has some “don’ts” to protect you.

“Don’t expect to get rich quick. Be careful with your personal information. Don’t be lured by claims of ‘insider information’.”

The top financial scam this year is affinity fraud, which targets a group of people known to each other. It pits a leader in the group against the others to get money out of them.

“To be successful, scam artists need to earn the trust of an influential person in a group, family, or workplace. Once they establish this bond – and this can take time – they use this connection to get their hands on the money of other people in the group. In some cases, they may even pay the influencer to help them out, never telling the person that the investment is really a scam,” the BBB says.

For information on red-flags that could signal a scam, visit www.investright.org.

Rogue door to door contractors sometimes have a legitimate service to offer – but often it includes shoddy workmanship and high-pressure sales tactic.

“These types of offers include: a deal to seal or repave your driveway, a roofer with leftover material from a previous job, a furnace repair that you didn’t schedule or a gas fireplace ‘inspection,’ the BBB said. “These fraudulent ‘contractors’ use high pressure sales tactics and offers of a one-time deal to entice or frighten consumers into expensive and often unnecessary home repairs.”

The BBB said you should get all the information on the company written down, and be leery if you are asked to pay in cash or with a cheque and the contractor offers to come back later to finish the job.

“You will probably never see them or your money again,” the BBB said.

A common scam that many have been the victim or recipient of, is the virus fixing scheme. An unsolicited person calls to warn you that your computer is infected with a virus, and offers to clean it up for a fee.

“The scammer is trying to gain remote access to your computer and get your credit card information,” the BBB said.

Any unsolicited call for virus removal should be suspect. The BBB said you should hang up the phone immediately, and never click on internet ads offering similar services.

Scammers have sunk to a new low: targeting youth with text message prizes. The scammer sends a text out offering a fabulous prize, but the youth must enter a pin number and email address online.

“Then, you are taken to a form and instructed to fill out your name, cell number, mailing address and answer unrelated personal questions, such as “Are you interested in going back to school?” and “Are you diabetic?” When you reach the page to “claim your gift card,” you instead find yourself directed to another site to apply for a credit card. In the end, you never receive a credit card and you have given out personal information,” the BBB said. Another key point is that the texts will often ask you to text “stop” or “no” to cease future messages. This is a further scam.

The top business scam is pretender invoices, when scammers send an invoice or bill requesting payment for services you have never received or requested.

“For example, you might be sent an invoice for a domain name that is very similar to your current domain name, or for a small amount of stationery. The scammer hopes that you don’t notice the difference and just pay the invoice.”

And the BBB’s scam of the year award goes to one that hits close to home for the consumer protection agency – it’s the fake BBB email phising scam.

“Yep, it’s us – the BBB phishing scam. Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions, of people have gotten emails that very much look like an official notice from BBB,” the bureau writes.

The BBB is currently working to stop the scam in its tracks.

If you believe yourself to be the victim of identity theft, call your bank and cancel your cards and obtain new ones.

Call the RCMP and Canada’s main credit reporting agencies: Trans Union Canada (tuc.ca, 1-800-663-9980) and Equifax Canada (equifax.ca, 1-800-465-7166).

Report any scams to the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre (antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca, 1-888-495-8501).

The BBB will be using the Twitter hashtag #justincase to offer more tips on how to protect yourself from scams, and is welcoming input from the public using the same tag.

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