BBB's Top 10 Scams, Schemes and Rip-Offs of 2010

top scamsJob hunters, consumers trying to dig themselves out of debt and those desperate to earn some extra money on the side were frequent victims of fraudsters, hackers and dishonest businesses in 2010, according to a list of the year's top 10 scams just published by the Better Business Bureau.

"With the economy still on the mend, scammers had a field day targeting struggling families who were looking for work and trying to make ends meet," Stephen A. Cox, President and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus, said in a statement."While some of the most popular scams are perennial problems that have always plagued consumers, some new additions to the list are signs of our tough economic times," Cox added.

Below, in no particular order, is the BBB's list of the most prevalent scams, schemes and rip-offs that defrauded consumers and small business owners across the U.S. in 2010:

Job Hunter Scams -- Scams targeting job hunters include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers, as well as requirements to pay a fee to be considered for a job.

Debt Relief and Settlement Services -- These companies often require upfront fees and often leave the consumer drowning in even greater debt. Complaints to BBB about debt relief and settlement services increased by approximately 30% in 2010, according to preliminary year-end estimates.

Work from Home Schemes -- Some work-from-home schemes promise to teach the secrets to making money online, others claim you can make money assembling items at home or get paid to be a mystery shopper. Some victims even found themselves being asked to fence stolen goods. The end result is that instead of earning money, you can end up losing hundreds -- if not thousands -- of dollars

Timeshare Resellers -- Complaints to the BBB about the timeshare industry -- including deceptive resellers -- increased by over 40% according to 2010 estimates. Timeshare owners desperate to unload costly vacation properties are being targeted by companies claiming to have an eager buyer. The company tells the seller they need to pay several thousand dollars to cover fees, and after paying up, the seller never hears from the company again.

Not So "Free" Trial Offers -- Misleading online free trial offers for diet supplements, penny auctions and money making schemes blanket the Internet, resulting in thousands of complaints ever year. The free trial offers seem no-risk but complainants say they were repeatedly billed every month and found it extremely difficult to cancel.

Itinerant Home Repair/Roofers -- BBBs across the country received complaints from consumers who answered a knock from a door to door salesman or itinerant worker who eventually failed to deliver on promises to repair their roof or perform other home improvement. Complaints to BBB about roofing companies increased by roughly 40% in 2010, according to tentative estimates. One company that solicited door to door, American Shingle, received nearly 1,000 complaints nationwide after going bankrupt and failing to provide new roofs to angry customers.

Lottery and Sweepstakes Scams -- The victim -- often a senior citizen -- receives a letter in the mail or phone call from someone pretending to be with Reader's Digest, Publisher's Clearing House or a phony foreign lottery. The scammer claims that the victim has won millions but must first wire hundreds or even thousands of dollars back to the scammers to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.

Identity Theft -- There are any number of ways a person can become a victim of identity theft. Through low-tech theft, phishing emails, phone calls, text messages, or even through no fault of your own as the result of a corporate data breach, millions fall victim to identity theft every year.

Advance Fee Loan Scams -- A perennial problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must pay upfront fees -- often more than $1,000. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.

Overpayment Scams -- Overpayment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or sites like Craigslist. The scammers overpay the amount for the services or products and then ask the victim to wire the extra amount back to them or to another fraudulent entity. Ultimately though, the check is forged and the victim is out the money wired back to the scammers.

Consumers or small business owners victimized by a scam can contact their local BBB or file a complaint. Always research a business with BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.

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