The Better Business Bureau brings us the most common scams of 2010. How can you protect yourself in 2011? Fortunately, most schemes are variations on a theme: Don't pay up front fees and you'll go far.
Regardless of the economy’s performance, ripping people off is always a booming business. In fact, scammers do better in poor economies: They “had a field day” last year, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB has a list of the top 10 scams and rip offs of 2010, although calling it a “bottom 10” would suit these lowlifes better. Regardless, here are the most popular tricks from last year, and what we have to say about them – since we’ve covered most before:
- Job-hunter scams. A lot of people are still out of work and desperate enough to fall for these guys, who promise to find you work for a fee paid up front or try to get personal details like bank info or your Social Security number. Some even have the audacity to offer fake government jobs, according to the Federal Trade Commission, which also has other tips on dealing with this kind of scam.
- Debt-relief and settlement services. The BBB said this one went up at least 30 percent last year, and it’s no surprise. Many people are feeling the credit crunch and want to polish theirs up. Many so-called debt relief companies will promise you the world – in exchange for an arm and a leg up front. They’re not all scams, but many are. Check out our story 5 Tips to Find the Right Debt Relief Agency for help finding one, and look at 3 Tips to Raise Your Credit Score Fast to see what you can do yourself.
- Work-from-home schemes. This one seems to be everywhere. Go to any website talking about “scams,” and not only will they discuss this problem, but an offer of this type will ironically pop up in their Google advertising too. Same story: “Pay up front and we’ll teach you the secrets of making money,” or invite you to be a mystery shopper, or some other nonsense. “Money up front” should usually sound the scam alarm, although Stacy discusses legit work-from-home opportunities in How Do I Work From Home?
- Timeshare resellers. Up 40 percent from last year, this sort of trick preys on people looking to dump their expensive vacation assets. You’ll get solicitations interested in listing your property or guaranteeing a buyer for high fees and never hear back after forking the money over. Stacy has advice on this too in Buying or Selling a Timeshare.
- Not so “free” trial offers. Whether it’s poor management or a deliberate scam, many companies offer so-called “free” trials that are almost impossible to cancel, resulting in ridiculous monthly fees, frustration, and probably, after much hassle, cancellation charges. Others really are free but come with other risks – like your personal information being sold or your computer being damaged. Check out our story 4 Tips to Avoid the High Cost of Online Freebies.
- Itinerant home repair/roofers. Apparently, some hucksters figured out the real estate bust was a great chance to offer fake repairs. As a general rule, don’t trust door-to-door salesmen. If you really like what they seem to offer, get their contact info and do some research, then have them get back to you. Otherwise, you’re setting yourself up.
- Lottery and sweepstakes scams. You’ve won, without doing a thing and without knowing the lottery existed! If this sounds incredibly stupid, you’d be amazed how many people leap at the chance of free money – even though you have to pay thousands in “taxes” or some other fee. Tell them to take the money out of your supposed winnings, or to shove it.
- Identity theft. This is less of a scam than, as the name suggests, a theft. But it’s definitely one of the most prevalent ways people get ripped off, and you should take action to avoid getting your bank and credit information stolen. Check out our stories 5 Tips to Protect Your Identity Online and for offline protection, 10 Top Tips For Free Identity Theft Prevention.
- Advance fee loan scams. Like the lottery rip off, this involves you wiring money to somebody who promises you’re qualified for a big, low-interest loan. Just don’t. Most schemes are some variant of “give us money now and we’ll give you more money later,” so avoiding anything along those lines will go a long way.
- Over-payment scams. Here’s a cute little twist: The scammer gives you money – too much, in fact, and asks for some back. The problem is the money is fake, supposedly covered by a counterfeit check. The simplest way to avoid this is to not accept payment in the wrong amount, but the Federal Trade Commission has more advice once again.
While these were the biggest scams of 2010, there are plenty more out there. Check out our story 10 Tip-offs to Online Rip-offs for more ways to protect yourself.