In the days of grade school, it was all about the book fair.
Much like my unathletic sixth-grade self, they’d only appear in our Catholic school gymnasium about once a year. But when they did, you knew you were getting out of class for an hour or two and better yet, you’d sometimes land a great book or two.
That year, I came away with a gem of a book that compiled dozens of David Letterman’s Top Ten lists. How did that book find its way to me? How did it end up being sold to an 11-year-old for a quarter? Anyway, it was a hit. I read the lists off to my class all week like I was Letterman himself.
The Better Business Bureau (BBB) turned to the list format in compiling the top 10 scams of 2015. The scams tricked consumers out of a combined $1 million.
Here they are, in order of the most reported scams. Paul Shaffer: a drum roll, please.
• Tax Scams (24 percent): I warned readers about this one in August after a reader called and said she’d been threatened by a man claiming to be from the IRS. The incident wasn’t isolated. According to the BBB, 2,413 people reported the scam, more than three times the next three categories combined.
• Debt collections (8.3 percent): Let’s be real. There are few people on this fine planet of ours who don’t have some sort of outstanding debt, whether it’s student loans, credit cards or car payments. These scammers pretend to be a debt collector and threaten the victim with jail time, lawsuits and garnished wages if they don’t fork over the payment.
• Sweepstakes, prize winners (8 percent): Tahiti, the Bahamas and Hawaii are just a few of the places you won’t be going if you fell for this sneaky scam. Culprits in this scheme place a call or send a letter or email announcing you’ve won lavish prizes in a sweepstakes and they’ll be glad to deliver the prizes if you’ll just send a small (large) processing fee. Don’t. You should never have to pay to claim a prize, the BBB warns.
• Tech support scam (6 percent): Another one I urged readers to avoid. This one involved hackers posing as Microsoft technicians to extract credit card numbers and other personal information from a victim’s computer, an occurrence so prominent Microsoft itself warned consumers to be wary of it.
• Government grant (5.7 percent): I’d like to think most people would be skeptical of a government official calling out of the blue and offering money, but 574 people reported falling victim to the scam in the past year. Criminals carrying out the ruse pretend to offer government-assisted aid. In order to receive it, the BBB says the schemesters ask for a delivery fee to be paid by credit card or wire transfer.
• Advance fee loan scam (3.8 percent): An advertisement commands you to fill out an application and you soon receive an email or phone call, advising you are approved, but you must first send a processing fee, security deposit or insurance. You pay the alleged “fee” but never see the loan. Anybody sensing a theme?
• Credit card scam (3 percent): The scammer pretends to be from your bank or credit card issuer and claims you are now eligible for a lower interest rate or they need to verify a recent transaction, the BBB says. While I didn’t hit on this exact scam, I told readers in October to look out for scam artists preying on those unfamiliar with the transition to metallic microchips, currently underway by many of the big credit card companies.
As many of us are making loads of purchases for the holidays, consumers should pay special attention to this one.
• Work from home scam (2.6 percent): This one involves advertisements on job sites, promising big bucks to those who want to work from home. The BBB says instead of ending up with a cushy job you can do in your jammies, you could have your identity stolen when you fill out the employment forms or even end up handling stolen merchandise.
• Fake check or money order (2.4 percent): This can happen any time someone is paying you for goods or services (even when you are selling something online). You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed, and you are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference, the BBB explains. When the check bounces, you’re out the cash.
• Lottery scam (2.4 percent): You’ve just won the lottery in a foreign country. No, really. More than 200 people reported falling for this. The BBB says victims receive a call, letter or email announcing they have won a large amount of money in a foreign lottery but have to pay upfront for taxes and fees.
The scams have much in common. Most prey on people by pretending to be from a credible source like the IRS, Microsoft, banks, etc. They also tend to feature high-pressure tactics and harsh penalties.
Never send money without verifying the credibility of the source. Don’t be bullied into sending money or turning over personal information. Remember, most of the companies or agencies these scam artists pretend to be from will never cold call a consumer.
More than anything, it’s best to be aware of what’s out there.
To report a scam, go to the BBB Scam Stopper at www.bbb.org/scam.