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Top 10 scams of 2014 according to the Better Business Bureau

“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:

Data Breaches

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.

IRS Imposters

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.

Click-Bait Schemes

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 Cards

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.

Phishing Scams

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.

JPMorgan Bank Hacked

The largest U.S. bank becomes the latest victim of cyber-attacks.

For months hackers intruded into the databanks of JPMorgan.  The attacks started in June when malicious programs were unleashed to penetrate the corporate network, stealing gigabytes of information, including customer-account data, continuing until mid-August.

It is still unknown if the attacks were by criminals seeking profit or an effort to hit back at the U.S. and global financial system.

The intruders… Continue reading

Estmiated $10 Million Stolen in Massive Identity Theft Scheme

A massive identity theft and fake tax return scheme was recently discovered that cost the U.S. Treasury an estimated $10 million.

U.S. Attorney David Hickton announced the 13 count indictment of five men allegedly responsible for the crimes at a news conference in Pittsburgh. According to the indictment, the men allegedly sought $21 million in fraudulent tax refunds, and the IRS paid out about half of it.

“We… Continue reading

Target’s 40 Million Customer Data Breach

The retail department store, Target suffered a data breach which compromised 40 million customers’ payment information.

They believe the hack began on Black Friday and stretched more than two weeks to Dec. 15th.

Malware was responsible for the large data breach. The company is cooperating with federal authorities, including the Secret Service and Department of Justice, and is withholding additional details at the request of law enforcement.

The hack was limited… Continue reading

Adobe Breach: 2.9 Million Accounts Compromised

According to the Software Company Adobe, hackers have accessed the personal information of around 2.9 million customers. The cyber thieves got away with information, including customer names, user IDs, passwords, encrypted credit or debit card numbers, expiration dates, and other information relating to customer orders.

Adobe is sending emails to anyone whose account was potentially compromised. If you received the email, follow the instructions to reset your password. Also… Continue reading

Man Indicted in 5.5 Million Identity Theft Scheme

Bradford Thomas, 46, a Cobb County man has been charged with filing more than 1,200 false tax returns using the names and Social Security numbers of various victims. Many of the victims were incarcerated throughout the country.

False tax returns claimed more $5.5 million in fraudulent tax refunds that were directed to be deposited into bank accounts controlled by Thomas or individuals working with him. The scheme caused an actual loss… Continue reading

Postal Service Change of Address Form Can Lead to Identity Theft

A change of address form filled out and submitted to the postal service can lead to identity theft.

Channel 9’s Nancy Alvarez in Florida was told, at a local post office, that a person can walk in and fill out a change of address form without showing any identification. The change of address form can also be made online.

Fred O’Neal, an attorney from the Orlando area discovered a week’s worth of… Continue reading

Supermarket Data Breach Exposes 2.4 Million Cards

A Missouri supermarket chain recently discovered the data on about 2.4 million credit and debit cards used by customers may have been exposed. Schnucks, a St. Louis-based supermarket chain that owns 100 stores and 96 in-store pharmacies in a five-state region in the Midwest announced that it had found and contained the data breach.

According to the company, only card numbers and expiration dates appear to have been exposed… Continue reading

Once Again Identity Theft is Top FTC Complaint

Identity theft has been the top consumer complaint to the Federal Trade Commission now for the last 13 years.

The FTC’s annual look at its Consumer Sentinel Network database of complaints found that 2012 was the first year the agency got more than 2 million complaints overall, and 369,132, or 18%, were related to identity theft.

Here is the list of the top 10 complaints:

  1. Identity Theft
  2. Debt Collection
  3. Banks and

Better Business Bureau Tips to Avoid Identity Theft

The Better Business Burerau offers the following tips to keep your identity secure:

  1. Carry only the cards you need at the time. Minimize the identification information and the number of cards you carry in your wallet or purse. Do not carry your Social Security card unless you need it.
  2. Cut up old or expired credit cards. Be aware of inactive credit card and bank accounts. Check them periodically for suspicious activity.
  3. Choose