by Broderick Perkins
(1/19/2012) ERATE Exclusive - If you've resolved to better keep tabs on your finances this year, be wary of scams designed to make you break that resolution.
While you are at it, to be forewarned of what else is coming down the pike to con you, plug into the Better Business Bureau's (BBB) scam alert system.
BBBs Scam Source offers a host of resources, tips, alerts and other information to protect you from come-ons out to get you.
Especially be on the lookout for what BBB calls The Top Scams of 2011. Operators of these scams are still skulking, trying to catch you napping.
Top Financial Scam - Mortgage Relief
Due to the housing crisis, the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs in recent years. Just like web sites that mimic the federal free credit report web site, numerous web sites pretend to be "official" or "government" mortgage relief web sites. They may sound like a government agency or pretend to align themselves with an official non-profit group. Consider it a red flag when they ask you for money upfront. If you bite you'll almost always end up in more debt than when you hired them.
Top Identity Theft Scam - Late Night Hotel Computer Crash
Hotels are posting warnings about this act of fraud. Someone calls you late at night in your hotel room. It's the front desk, the computer has crashed and they need your credit card number right away because your transaction won't go through. The grifter is counting on you being too sleepy to catch on. It's someone from outside who knows the direct-dial phone number for the guest rooms. If you don't wake up, by the time you do, your credit card has been out on the town.
Top Check Cashing Scam - CraigsList/Western Union
Someone contacts you via a real CraigsList posting you made. They send you a check for more than the amount owed and ask you to deposit it into your bank account and then send them the difference via Western Union. The wired money is gone, the deposited check takes a couple of days to clear and you are out the difference, including any check bouncing or over draft fees caused by the bad check.
Top Home Improvement Scam - Gypsy Contractors
Unsolicited, they knock on your door. It's a roofer who spots missing shingles, a paver with asphalt to spare from the last job, or some other ruse. They often move in after a disaster and turn your home into one before they are gone and you've paid them for shoddy work. Avoid unsolicited salespeople. Hire licensed contractors.
Top Sales Scam - Penny Auctions
Internet penny auctions are very popular because it seems like you can get something useful - cameras, computers, etc. -- for next to nothing. You pay a small fee for each bid say, 50 cents to $1 and if you aren't the winner, you lose the bid money. Winners often are not even the top bidder, but the last bidder when time runs out. Not all penny auction sites are scams, but some are being investigated as online gambling. BBB says treat online penny auctions as you would legal gambling in a casino -- know the house rules, set a limit and be prepared to walk away, before you exceed your limit.
Top Job Scam - ID Theft Job Offers
Among the hose of secret shopper schemes, work-from-home scams, and other phony job offers, the worst is designed to steal your personal information. Emails, websites and online applications all look very professional. You may even be interviewed for the "job" and get an offer. However, before you can begin work you have to complete a credit report, provide bank information for direct deposit of their paychecks or otherwise divulge personal and financial information. And you don't really get the job.
Top Sweepstakes and Lottery Scam - Celebrity Sweepstakes
It's your lucky day. You've won a boat load of money and all you have to do to collect is to send in a smaller amount of money. Just keep things hush-hush until the sweepstakes is ready to announce that your ship has finally come in. Last year, such a "sweepstakes" claimed to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg. Do you remember entering the sweepstakes? That's a big clue.
Scam of the Year - BBB Phishing
Hundreds of thousands, perhaps millions of people received emails appearing to be an official BBB notice. The subject line says "Complaint Against Your
Business," and the email instructs you to click on a link or open an attachment. Do so and you'll launch a malicious virus designed to steal banking information, passwords and other information that can be used for cyber theft. Don't click on links or open attachments in suspicious email.
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