3 common scams to watch out for in 2013

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Posted: Wednesday, March 27, 2013 12:00 am

“Scammers have been around for decades — always finding new twists and spins on their schemes,” said Jim Hegarty, Better Business Bureau president and CEO.

“They prey especially on our senior citizens because (the elderly)are most vulnerable to fraud. Unfortunately, it's hard to say which ones are the biggest scams, as far as the number of people affected or the amount of money stolen, because many go unreported or under-reported. Empowering people with knowledge is our best tool to stop these scams.”

The BBB has put together a list of scams the organization believes will be most common during the rest of this year. The list was gathered from information on scams reported to the BBB by consumers and businesses, some of whom have been victims of scams; from federal agencies; and from other reliable information sources.

Here are the anticipated top three scams.

Identity theft

Nationally, two social-media sites have been and are expected to continue to be exploited by scam artists.

In one example, the scam victim receives a direct message from a friend on Twitter with something about a video of him or her on Facebook (“ROFL they was taping you” or “What RU doing in this FB vid?” are typical tweets). In a panic, the victim clicks on the link to see the embarrassing video. Instead, an error message describes the need to update Flash or some other video player.

But the file isn't a new version of Flash. It's a virus or malware that steals confidential information from the computer or smart phone. Twitter recommends reporting such spam, resetting the account password and revoking connections to third-party applications.

Scammers also can steal personal information from your trash can, mailbox, computer and car, then use it to go into business as you, ruining your credit and emptying your bank account.

Phishing is another common yet difficult-to-avoid form of identity theft. You are being phished when you receive a suspicious phone call asking for personal information or an email that puts a virus on your computer to hunt for your data. Phishers have even used the name of the Better Business Bureau to pull off their schemes.

Financial

Many of those who are struggling in the current economy want to get out of debt or hang on to their homes. Unfortunately, scammers take advantage of such desperate situations.

Most scams advertised online promise easy repayment terms or no credit checks. Then the hook: The first payment must be made upfront, and an insurance policy must be purchased or some other kind of fee paid to secure the loan.

Last year an aggressive twist emerged regarding these kinds of scams. Consumers were threatened with lawsuits and law enforcement action if they didn't pay back loans they said they had never taken out in the first place. Some consumers received calls at their workplace; other calls were placed to their relatives. The embarrassment of being thought of as delinquent caused some victims to pay, even when they knew they didn't owe anything.

Bogus mortgage and debt-relief programs will likely continue to pop up. Be wary of checks that appear in your mailbox unexpectedly. They are probably fake and will serve only to escalate your financial problems. Also, check out mortgage and debt relief programs before doing business.

Home improvement

The home improvement industry is always among the BBB's top 10 most complained-about industries. Shady home improvement contractors make it difficult for good guys in the industry to do business.

Shady operators often leave your home worse than they found it. They typically knock on your door offering a deal, such as a great price on a paving job because they have leftover asphalt. The worst contractors are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help.

A national example of scammers taking advantage after a natural disaster happened following Superstorm Sandy.

Some of the contractors who offered tree removal, roofing and general home repair were legitimate and had come from other areas for the volume of work available. Others were unlicensed, uninsured and ill-prepared to do the work. Still others were scam artists who took the money and never did the work.

When damage from a tornado, flood or high winds necessitates emergency repairs, be sure to check references of any contractors you might use.

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