“This year, scammers found new ways to steal from innocent consumers and businesses, whether it be through multiple data breaches, fake invoice schemes, or even by pretending to be government officials,” said Dennis Horton, director of the Rockford Regional of the Better Business Bureau. “Some scams were widespread, getting a lot of people for small amounts. Others were more narrowly focused, taking people for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars.”
Top 10 scams, in no particular order:
Hackers are getting into computer systems that store financial and personal data then using it for fraud. In 2014, financial information was taken from many large retailers and social security numbers from a large hospital chain in the Chicago and Northern Illinois area. Affected companies are obligated by law to notify customers about breaches. Although you cannot avoid a data breach itself, you can prepare yourself for what may follow once your personal information has been stolen.
Calls from scammers claiming to be IRS officials swept the country in 2014. Thousands of calls were made to individuals threatening jail, deportation and loss of property if payment was not made. The Chicago and northern Illinois area had losses of around one million dollars. Consumers were left voicemails saying they need to call the IRS immediately to avoid legal consequences.
Sensational or provocative content, especially on social media, attracts attention and draws visitors to a particular web page. In 2014, these stories were often used to trick consumers into clicking on links that go to fraudulent websites. When clicked on, malware is installed on your computer or smartphone.
Fake Utility Bills
This summer, scammers targeted individual consumers and businesses with false claims that their utility bills were delinquent and their services were in danger of being disconnected. Many got calls from scammers who demanded that they immediately pay their alleged delinquent accounts.
Pre-paid debit cards such as GreenDot Money Cards, Wal-Mart MoneyCard and Western Union MoneyWise became a risk for consumers in 2014. Scammers, posing as “support reps” for these companies, tell consumers they need a refund for the money on the card, and request a person’s credit and checking account numbers. This information gives scammers access to the prepaid card and your financial accounts.
Tech Support Scams
This fall, there was a surge in reports of consumers receiving calls from individuals claiming that Microsoft has been notified of errors or viruses on their computers that need removal. The scammer persuades the victim to download a program which allows remote access to their computer. Once access is gained, the scammer shows typical computer errors, which are still enough to convince the owner there is a problem. They then offer to fix the problems for anywhere from $200 - 400.
Advance Fee Loans
Advance fee loans-also known as short-term high-rate loans, cash advance loans, check advance loans, payday loans or title loans-are very expensive forms of credit. Consumers are solicited by telemarketers, contacted by email, or see offers in classified sections of newspapers and magazines or on the Internet. Many times consumers never receive their loan, in spite of paying up-front fees.
Fake Lottery & Sweepstakes
Lottery and Sweepstakes scams usually begin with a phone call or an email. The consumers are told they won a large sum of money but they must first pay fees and taxes. Victims wire this money, but never get their “winnings” or get back the money they sent.
Office Supplies/School Supply Scams
In 2014, a company falsely sent invoices to schools and school districts. Districts were billed for bulk purchase of textbooks that were never requested or received. This technique is also used on businesses for amounts that are a few hundred dollars. Inquiries received no responses; calls to a phone number routes to a series of voice mail boxes or mail drops.
Scams using email were more common in 2014. Cyber-criminals pose as legitimate businesses to get financial information via emails. Links in the email can put a virus on your computer that hunts for your personal and financial information to use for identity theft or other illegal activities.