The Better Business Bureau, the British Columbia Securities Commission, the Competition Bureau, Consumer Protection BC, and the Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia announce the Top Ten Scams for 2014:
TOP ADVERTISING SCAM: Astroturfing – This is a term for posting fake online reviews on websites such as Google or Yelp. It is a form of false advertising that can help to boost a company’s public profile online through what is supposed to be an unbiased consumer review websites.
How to spot the scam: Read through all the reviews to get a general sense of what others are saying about the company. Use other review websites and BBB.org to get a second opinion. Look out for bad grammar and spelling which could also show it is a fake review.
TOP LOVE SCAM: Catphishing – A romance scam in which a fraudster pretends to be someone they are not on an online dating or social media website, for the purpose of taking money or personal information from their targets.
How to spot the scam: The person asks to talk or chat on an outside email or messaging service so their encounter with you cannot be tracked on the dating site. The person claims to be from this country but is currently traveling, living or working abroad. The person will ultimately ask you to wire money or credit card information due to an emergency like a sick relative or stolen wallet. You can spot a catphisher if the person’s photo is a stock image on Google.
TOP ONLINE SCAM: Enterprise Fee Scheme – The most famous version is the “Nigerian Letter.” It’s an unsolicited request for modest financial assistance in exchange for a great deal of money. Other versions target investors who have lost money on an investment, offering to purchase or exchange shares and help the investor minimize their losses. Whatever the pitch, the central feature of the enterprise fee scam is to ask for an upfront payment to cover transaction costs, whether to “unlock” a larger sum of money or facilitate a transfer of shares. Either way, the fraudster keeps the fee, but doesn’t deliver what was promised. The investor loses.
How to spot the scam: Scammers are moving away from email and taking to social networks like Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube. Watch out for overly promotional language about the “next big thing” or something “going to the top of the charts.” Don’t respond to direct messages about investments or stocks that come to you via social networks or text message. Resist the temptation to repost, retweet, or redistribute information about a stock that’s being heavily promoted on social networks or the internet. Remove companies or people from your social networks who aggressively promote investments. Use the Report Fraud button at InvestRight.org to report investment promotions you know or suspect to be illegal.
TOP FINANCIAL SCAM: Affinity Fraud – It happens where you’d least expect it. Right in your own community, with people you know and trust like religious institutions, colleagues or other association connections and even friends and, sometimes, family. The fraudsters’ business is lying to people to gain their trust and steal their money. They look for opportunity among people who expect the best of each other because of common language, faith, interests, neighbourhood, or other bond of trust. They may even pay the influencer to help them out, never telling the person that the investment is really a scam.
How to spot the scam: Promises of high returns with little or no risk (there are no exceptions to the rule that higher returns mean higher risk). Someone (often someone new) in your group starts talking about how to build wealth through special investments only they know about. The person is “just like you”—whether through ethnicity, religion, occupation, interests, or other common bond—and uses that connection to foster your trust. Sometimes signs of conspicuous wealth can tip you off. And, any suggestion that you should keep the investment a secret is a sure give-away.
TOP SALES SCAM: Curbers – These unlicensed dealers, get junk cars and then sell them from parking lots. They advertise through local newspapers and online ads. Curbers do not disclose the vehicle’s history to the buyer, often hiding a lien, accident damage or rolled back odometers. Sometimes, the car turns out to be stolen.
How to spot the scam: They have the same phone number listed for many cars and ask, “Which car?” when you call. Curbers will say that they are selling the vehicle for a friend and will come up with a sad story. They will also rush you into buying and will request that you meet them at a parking lot. Cash is typically requested as payment. They may also want you to lie on the transfer form. Be sure to see if the name or location on the vehicle documents match the curber’s ID. Remember, if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is. Consumers can report a curber and find a licensed dealer at www.vehiclesalesauthority.com.
TOP MAIL SCAM: Lottery Scams – In this digital age, lottery scams that come through the mail may seem like a thing of the past but Consumer Protection BC continues to get calls about this scam that often targets seniors.
The typical scenario involves an individual who receives a letter in the mail saying they have won $2.5 million. The person is instructed to send back $30 as a “processing fee” and include personal details, such as a telephone number and birth date. Once that letter is sent, not only is the consumer out of pocket for the money, they are also added to a “sucker list” and are likely to receive more and more offers like this one in the mail.
How to spot the scam: Never pay up-front for any prize. A legitimate prize offering will never require you to pay anything. Be suspicious of free gifts. Always remember, if it sounds too good to be true – it probably is. Consumer Protection BC urges British Columbians to sit down with family members who might be vulnerable and explain how these types of scams work. Report these types of scams to Canada’s Anti-Fraud Centre Toll Free at: 1-888-495-8501.
TOP TELEMARKETING SCAM: The Unknown Caller – You may receive a call that your computer security has been compromised and that they can help you, or that your grandchild is in jail and in need of money. In either case, it is a cold call that has come out of the blue and is asking you to take action quickly and send money now.
How to spot the scam: Any cold call you receive should ask for the caller’s name, and other verifying details including a phone contact for a callback and end the call. If it is someone who claims to be a family member, check with other relatives. If it is a service-related company, search for the company’s contacts on the website and look out for any scam warnings posted online. You can also check with the Better Business Bureau. Never give out your credit card information or wire money to a stranger.
TOP YOUTH SCAM: The Insta-scam – A social media mobile app like Instagram targets a lot its young users because its followers are readily willing to “like” or share a picture. Through a mobile app like Instagram, a scammer can post pictures of prize giveaways that look to be linked to big brands and retailers, but in reality may redirect you to online quizzes or other websites trying to get your credit card information. Users of the social media app may share or “like” a promo in order to fulfil the contest rules, but in reality they are just giving help to spammers and will never get a prize.
How to spot the scam: If the profile name mentions “giveaway” or “free” in its name, it is likely a scam. If all this poster ever posts is pictures for free stuff, it is likely a spam account. If the picture redirects you to a form do not share personal information, like an email address, or a password. Be wary of any new apps that promise free “likes” or followers to build your network.
TOP BUSINESS SCAM: Pretender Scam – A business receives an invoice which appears to be from an “authorized” service provider for things like online advertising, webhosting, website domain registration or trademark copywriting services. In all cases, the service is misrepresented and the business is often threatened that they will be put into a collections’ service if they do not pay the invoice.
How to spot the scam: Be wary of final notice invoices that create a false sense of urgency. If you have not heard of the supplier, it may be just a fraudulent invoice. Look out for fine print that states that this document is only a form of advertising and not an invoice — a common tactic of fraudsters. The scam generally becomes easier to spot once the business owner creates their own list of authorized vendors and suppliers and ensure that there are strict controls on purchasing and accounting.
SCAM OF THE YEAR: Celebrity Gossip Spam - Some of Hollywood’s top names like Justin Bieber, Miley Cyrus, Jennifer Aniston, and the Kardashians regularly make top headlines, which makes them ideal fodder for scammers to put out bogus content on social media networks. Spam is always looking to capitalize on a consumer’s need for new, sensational, or fascinating information and professional spammers post content that mentions celebrities in compromising situations in order to get clicks. Clicking through a spam video or picture can often redirect you to an online survey that puts advertising commission in a spammer’s wallet despite the content being non-existent or a fake. In some cases, a person may end up installing malware on their computer after clicking through the video content.
How to spot the scam: If the video or content posted on your social media website seems to be about something scandalous that involves a celebrity, do not click through. It is likely a fake. Consider checking out the information from a trusted news source first. Don’t believe a celebrity is dead, just because Twitter says so. The headlines are attention grabbing for a reason, and users should not help spammers to do their dirty work by sharing the links on their social media accounts.
For more information:
Better Business Bureau of Mainland British Columbia
Tel. 604 682 2711
Toll Free: 1 (888) 803 1222
BC Securities Commission
1 (800) 373 6393
Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre
Consumer Protection BC
1 (888) 564 9963
Vehicle Sales Authority of BC