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Top Ten Scams, Fakes and Frauds of 2009

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By Tanya Roth, Esq. on January 15, 2010 10:05 AM

The Better Business Bureau, that reliable old warhorse of consumer avocation, has put out its list of the top ten scams, fakes and frauds of 2009. It will surprise no one that the scammers managed to lift our wallets by playing on our fears and hopes. Never ones to ignore the au courant concerns of the public (job loss, foreclosure, the flu) the scammers hit us right where we hurt last year, and made us hurt a little bit more. Although the BBB did not put their list in any particular order, we have jiggered it just a bit to present here, in true David Letterman style, the countdown of the Top 10 Sneakiest, Nastiest Frauds of 2009: 

No. 10: Robocalls: Pervasive, automatic calls pretending that your car warranty is about to expire or your credit card interest rate can be lowered. Both not true and both so common that the FTC took action to further restrict the calls in 2009.

No. 9: Sweepstakes Scams: A perennial favorite. The consumer is told they have won the lottery or Clearinghouse Sweepstakes and asked to send money to "cover the taxes" on the winnings. The money sent for "taxes" disappears and so do the "winnings."

No. 8: Mystery Shopping: Sounds too good to be true and is. Jobs as 'secret shoppers' are offered with consumers testing out services at stores and then, surprise, at a money wiring service such as Western Union. A fake check is sent to cover the costs. The shopper is now out money and a job. 

No. 7: Over-Payment Schemes: This scam targets landlords with apartments to rent, or sellers of goods on sites like Craigslist. The scammer sends a check for the deposit or goods for more than the agreed on amount. The seller is asked to wire the extra amount to a third party like a shipping company. The check turns out to be no good and the "extra" money goes right to the scammer. 

No. 6: Stimulus/Government Grant Offers: Using the lure of government stimulus money, scammers offer useless advice or assistance to small business owners on how to become eligible for a stimulus grant. Looks like even scammers can read the headlines.

No. 5: Acai Supplements and other "Free Trails": Playing on our fears of getting older, scammers offer teeth bleaching treatments, acai anti-aging supplements and other treatments supposedly endorsed by people we can trust like, no not the Surgeon General, Oprah. The endorsements are fake and the "free" goods end up costing hundreds of dollars.

No. 4: "Google" Work at Home Scam: Again, using the desperation of those newly out of work and using a trusted brand like Google or Twitter, consumers are promised work at home jobs they think are linked to these successful companies. The job hunter is then asked for personal financial or credit information for a "credit or background check" which is then promptly stolen. Or in another version, the job applicant is charged hundreds of dollars for materials or other offers linked to getting work.

No 3: Job Hunter Scams: This is similar to the above scam, and nastily preys those just looking for work. Consumers are asked to provide personal information like social security numbers or bank account information that is then stolen, or asked for information for a "credit check" which turns out to be a lure to credit monitoring services which are charged for each month until cancelled.

No 2: H1N1 Fake Emails and Phishing Schemes: Sinking to new depths by playing on fears of the H1N1 virus, these scammers gain personal or financial information by asking consumers to "sign up for" flu shot programs. This of course is a new twist on the old phishing emails sent by scammers to gain personal information by posing as online representatives from Wells Fargo, Ebay or the King of Nigeria.

No 1: Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue/Debt Assistance: This scam earns the number one spot because it plays on the fears of whole families in jeopardy of losing their homes. Scammers promise debt restructuring for a fee. The fee disappears, the debt assistance never materializes and the home might just disappear as well, as the victim now has even less money to pay the mortgage than before.

Folks, keep your wits about you in 2010, and let's be careful out there.   

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