Scams cost consumers more than $1 million this year, according to a roundup of reports by the Better Business Bureau. Since that figure only accounts for incidents reported to the BBB, actual losses may be even greater. The good news is 85% of consumers who reported these scams realized what was going on before it was too late.
Then again, the best defense against scams is to know the signs. Most scams on the BBB’s list happened over the phone and involved asking consumers to pay for something they shouldn’t, such as winning a sweepstakes. Here are the 10 most common scams reported to the BBB this year.
1. Back Taxes
Reports this year: 2,413
Percentage of all reports: 24%
Someone claiming to be from the IRS calls saying you owe back taxes and must pay immediately. They may demand payment by money transfer or prepaid debit card. The first sign it’s a scam? The IRS never calls.
2. Debt Collection Scammers
Reports this year: 835
Percentage of reports: 8.3%
Here, someone calls saying you have an unpaid debt and could face wage garnishment, lawsuits or jail time. But even legitimate debt collectors can’t make threats. If you have debts in collection, know your rights so you can deal with the issue. (Here are a few tips for spotting a debt collection scammer.)
3. Sweepstakes, Prizes & Gifts
Reports this year: 811
Percentage of reports: 8%
Someone calls, emails or writes to say you’ve won a prize and need to pay delivery fees. But winning a contest you didn’t enter should be a red flag, and you shouldn’t pay for something you’ve won, the BBB says.
4. Tech Support Calls
Reports this year: 608
Percentage of reports: 6%
Someone calls to say they’ve detected a virus on your computer. They request remote access, perhaps for a fee, when all they want is to look through your data.
5. Government Grants
Reports this year: 574
Percentage of reports: 5.7%
You receive a phone call saying you’ve won a government grant and need to pay processing fees. Of course, the victim wires the money only to never receive the grant.
6. Advanced Fee Loans
Reports this year: 388
Percentage of reports: 3.8%
While researching loans online, you come across an ad and click for more info. After sending the application, someone calls or emails to say you’ve been approved — that is, if you send money. Not only do you lose the money (and the loan), you’ve just given a thief your personal info, exposing yourself to identity theft. A criminal can use that info to open new accounts in your name. You can spot these new accounts by monitoring your credit.
7. Credit Cards
Reports this year: 306
Percentage of all reports: 3%
Someone posing as your credit card issuer calls to say you qualify for lower interest rates, you just need to “confirm your account details” and then that info is used to perpetrate fraud.
8. Work-From-Home Scams
Reports this year: 261
Percentage of all reports: 2.6%
You find a job online that lets you earn lots of money from home. Sound too good to be true? It is. Research whoever you work with, because your info could be stolen. You could send your resumé only to never hear back, or worse, get involved in a bad business.
9. Fake Checks/Money Orders
Reports this year: 242
Percentage of all reports: 2.4%
Someone sends a check or money order for more than he owes, and asks you to pay back the difference. By the time you’ve sent payment, the first check has bounced.
10. Lottery ‘Winnings’
Reports this year: 241
Percentage of all reports: 2.4%
A phone call, letter or email says you’ve won a lottery, but need to pay taxes in order to receive the lump sum.
Things to Remember
Common sense will help you avoid losing money or having your identity stolen. But never be too careful: Don’t share personal info. with strangers, especially if they contact you first, and research everyone you do business with. Fraud and identity theft not only cost money, they can damage your credit. Make a habit of reviewing your credit scores for signs of fraud, which you can do for free every 30 days on Credit.com.