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January 10, 2013
Better Business Bureau: Top 10 consumer scams for 2012

Some preyed on recent, horrific disasters. Others have been around for years.

For 2012, the Northeast California Better Business Bureau has issued its list of the Top 10 worst consumer scams reported here and nationally.

"Our list highlights the scams that are the newest or most outrageous," said Gary Almond, president of the BBB serving northeast California, in a statement. "While consumers seem to be getting savvier, these scams only become more prevalent (using) new technologies."

Here are the BBB's top ten scams of 2012 and how they snare victims:

1. Fake Employment Ads
A company offers $400 a week for driving around with company logos plastered on your vehicle. They send a check and ask you to wire a portion to a graphic designer who will "customize" the car. One week later, the check bounces and the wired money is gone.

2. Grandparent Scam
It's not new but occurs when a supposed grandchild ("niece", family friend, etc.) calls, texts or emails to say he/she has been mugged/arrested/hurt and needs money wired immediately. Before sending any emergency money, contact family members or the supposed victim to be sure it's not a phony tale.

3. Mystery Shopping
Some phony mystery shopping job offers are a devious variation on the "fake check scam". As part of the assignment, you're asked to wire money or accept a partial payment upfront. The Mystery Shopping Providers Association says its members do not pre-pay shoppers.

4. Phony Loans
Loan scams continued to fester in 2012. Most advertised online and promised things like "no credit check" or easy repayment terms. The hook: the borrower has to make an upfront payment, buy an "insurance policy" or pay other fees to "secure" the loan. In the end, the consumer ends up with nothing but an empty wallet.

5. President Obama Will Pay Your Utility Bills
At the peak of summer's soaring utility costs, some consumers received emails, letters and even door-to-door solicitations about a "new government program" to pay their utility bills. Victims "registered" with a website and provided everything the scammers needed for ID theft, including bank account information.

6. Jamaican Phone Lottery
The calls come from area code 876 but the person claims to represent the BBB, FBI or another trusted group. You've "won" a terrific prize, but must pay a fee to collect the winnings. After wiring the money, the scammers disappear.

7. Fake Facebook Tweets
"ROFL they was taping you" or "What RU doing in this FB vid?" are typical tweets. In a panic, you click on the link and get an error message that says you need to update your video player. It's a virus or malware that can steal confidential information from your computer or smart phone. Twitter recommends reporting spam, resetting your password and revoking connections to third-party applications.

8. Hurricane Sandy "Storm Chasers"
Following SuperStorm Sandy, the BBB saw an unusual amount of "storm chaser" activity involving home repair scams. It's tempting to skip reference checking in an emergency, but it's always risky. Before hiring, check a company's license and search online for any history of complaints.

9. Cheap, Fake Sporting Goods
From the Super Bowl to the World Series, counterfeiters had their hands in consumers' pockets all year long. Some scammers sold cheap knock-offs in front of stadiums. Others set up phony websites. If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

10. Top Scam of the Year: Newtown Charity Scams
Within hours of the horrific shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, CT, social media pages dedicated to the child victims began cropping up. Some were scams asking for money. The FBI arrested one woman for posing as the aunt of a child victim; state and federal agencies are investigating other possible fraudulent solicitations.

Although the number of people defrauded and the total dollars stolen is most likely low, the BBB said the "cynicism and sheer audacity" of the Newtown scams merit selecting them as the Top Scam of 2012.

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Meet Our Financial Experts

Claudia Buck

Claudia Buck is The Sacramento Bee's personal finance columnist. Read all her columns here. Contact her at cbuck@sacbee.com

Terri Carpenter

Terri Carpenter offers advice on job hunting, retraining and career counseling. Carpenter works at Sacramento Works Inc., the career and job training arm of the Sacramento Employment and Training Agency (SETA). With 15 years in the field, she has hands-on experience with everyone from first-time job seekers to career professionals seeking advice after a layoff or looking for a mid-career change. Ask her a question.

Carlena Tapella

Carlena Tapella is a partner in the law firm of Webb & Tapella Law Corp. in Sacramento. The firm specializes in estate planning and probate, such as estates, trusts, conservatorships and litigation. She is a past president of the Sacramento County Bar Association's Estate Planning & Probate Section. Ask her a question.

Kimberly Foss

Kimberly Foss, certified financial planner, is the founder of Empyrion Wealth Management in Roseville. With nearly 30 years in the financial industry, her clients include women in transition, small business owners, retirees and "pre-retirees." Ask her a question.

Jesse Weller

Gregory Burke, a CPA and tax expert with John Waddell & Co. in Sacramento since 1984, worked as an IRS tax auditor for six years. He’s a past chairman of the California Society of CPAs. Ask him a question.

Daniel Tahara

Daniel Tahara takes your questions about California taxes. Tahara, a spokesman for the state Franchise Tax Board, has 10 years of experience as a tax auditor. Ask him a question.



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