Am I being scammed?

Alberta's turn for Yellow Pages fax fraud

In January 2010 some businesses have reported receiving faxes supposedly from the offices of YellowPages – The fax offers a “free submission to google” and has your listing information for you to confirm. This is fraudulent solicitation. This was not sent by Yellow Pages nor Google.

The following Top Ten Scams list is developed jointly by the BBB, Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of BC, Competition Bureau of Canada, BC Crime Prevention Association and BC Securities Commission. In no specific order, here are the Top Ten Scams for 2009. We also reprined the Quick Tip which we hope you find useful.

1. Health Claim Scams
Bogus products that make “breakthrough” health claims on the Internet or promise cures for illnesses, such as cancer, target the most vulnerable consumers. Be wary of on-line swine flu remedies not authorized by Health Canada that are making unsubstantiated health claims that they kill or ward off the virus. Consult your health care practitioner before trying any new treatment. Don’t be influenced by “miraculous” testimonials discussed on websites and blogs. Think twice before buying a product that claims it can “do it all.”

QUICK TIP: If you have questions or complaints about counterfeit drugs and/or drugs purchased over the Internet, please call Health Canada’s toll-free line at 1 800 267 9675. If you suspect that a website is promoting a treatment or cure that is too good to be true, please contact the Competition Bureau toll free at 1 800 348 5358 or go to website.

2. Not So “Free” Trials
You may want to try out a new diet product, an acne cream or teeth whitener, but be careful about signing up for ‘free’ trial offers. Many websites offering a free trial for products do not disclose the billing terms and conditions or do not have such details prominently displayed on their website. Before providing any credit or debit card information, review the website fully to avoid in repeated billing. Remember that money transfers and direct debit are two of the main methods by which scam artists seek to obtain your money.

QUICK TIP: When considering trial offers, be sure to first determine whether you are enrolling in a membership, subscription or service contract that allows the company to charge fees to credit cards. You can contact the BBB if you have a concern here

3. ID Theft
Often people find out that they are victims of identity theft after they are contacted by a collections’ agency for an account they never set up or because their credit has taken a hit. ID theft is when someone uses your information to obtain loans, goods, or services and does not pay the bills. Increasingly, people are being lured online into revealing personal information.

QUICK TIP: Do not fall for requests for information, or other scare tactics. Online scammers send emails that look legitimate, requesting that your “account information needs to be updated.” Another new tactic called “scareware” has a pop-up message showing that your computer is infected with a virus and that you need to visit a website to purchase and download anti-virus software that would fix the problem. These are all phishing tactics, ways to get you to reveal personal or financial information. If you receive these messages just delete them and do not click on any links. Doing so may compromise your computer’s security. If you are a victim of ID Theft call your financial institutions to request that your current cards be cancelled and that new cards be issued. You should also contact your local police and Canada’s main credit reporting agencies: TransUnion Canada (1 866 525 0262) and Equifax Canada at (1 866 779 6440).

4. Home Repair Rip-Offs
Imagine hearing that your furnace is leaking dangerous carbon monoxide into your home. Many times homeowners are told that they need to do an immediate replacement due to a crack in their heat exchanger or because the contractor has a gas-sniffer device which shows high carbon monoxide levels. This high pressure safety situation often ends up in unnecessary and costly repairs.

QUICK TIP: Do not make a decision to repair right away. Start with the Better Business Bureau and search for a company reliability report. Ask the person to provide a gas permit and a license. Most local gas companies will respond to this type of concern. They will come to your home and do their own test. Check it out.

5. Small Business Loan and Supply Scams
Looking for credit to keep your business afloat can be tough, and that is why you need to be careful of ‘no credit’ or ‘bad credit’ loan offers. What looks like quick and easy credit can often end up resulting in huge financial loss and possibly ID theft. Other companies call and pretend to be a regular supplier looking to confirm your address in a directory or to ship office supplies. Once bills arrive for unwanted advertising or overpriced supplies, aggressive “collection” agents call with threats of legal action.

QUICK TIP: If you receive an unsolicited phone call, email, or letter from a lender, be suspicious. Avoid dealing with a person who guarantees a loan without checking your credit or reviewing your business plan. Also, beware of lenders who:

  • cater to applicants with bad credit;
  • pressure you to make a decision on the spot;
  • request payment using a wire transfer service such as MoneyGram or Western Union.

Restrict the number of people in your company that can make purchase decisions and insist on a valid purchase order. To report a small business loan or supply fraud, please contact the Competition Bureau here or call 1 800 348 5358.

6. Free Government Money Schemes
Do you think you are entitled to free money from the Canadian government? Be suspicious of companies offering “free” advice on obtaining government grants. Often social networking sites and online ads will point to blogs that appear to be written by everyday people who are sharing the secret of how they received thousands of dollars in grants from the government to pay off their debt. In reality, this is a mass marketing scheme that does not provide an easy way for you to get a government grant. Rather, it costs you money to participate.

QUICK TIP: While it’s true that the Federal government does give out grant money every year, most grants are given to specific target groups, such as post-secondary researchers, or to specific industries. There is no reason to pay for software or guides when applying for government grants. Such information is already available for free on the Service Canada website click here or by calling 1 800 O-Canada (1 800 622 6232). If you believe that someone is engaging in this type of fraudulent activity regarding government grants, please contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Call Centre (“PhoneBusters”) here or call 1 800 495 8501.

7. Business Opportunities
Your friend or a family member may have invited you to attend a presentation involving an investment opportunity. You don’t know anything about the company, and are desperate to hear that it is legit. These investments appear lucrative, but often involve more hype than substance. The promoter convinces investors that they can be part owners of an exciting investment portfolio, provided that they enlist new recruits. The promoter may even offer promising commissions in cash and bullion.

QUICK TIP: In reality, this could be an illegal pyramid scheme. The new capital brought on by new investors is keeping this imaginary investment afloat. Get the facts. If you attend an information session, be sure to collect business cards and promotional materials. You should also ask the promoters questions. For example:

  • Who are the principals of the company?
  • What are the average earnings of a “typical” participant – with half of the participants earning more than this amount and half of participants earning less?
  • How much are the start-up costs?

Gather as much information as possible, before agreeing to anything. If you have reason to believe that someone is engaging in misleading advertising or deceptive marketing practices please contact the Competition Bureau site or call 1 800 348 5358. In British Columbia you should also consult the BC Securities Commission’s website here for information on how to select an advisor and what to look out for when choosing to invest.

8. Cashback Fraud
Cashback fraud usually begins when you advertise something for sale, such as a car. A buyer agrees to pay your asking price, but sends you a cheque or banker’s draft for a larger sum. The person asks you to bank his cheque and send him a money transfer for the difference. Sure enough, his or her cheque bounces a few days after your money transfer has left your account. You’re now out of pocket and looking for a bogus buyer who’s out-of-reach.

QUICK TIP: Criminal cashback works because cheques take longer to clear than electronic bank transfers. Do not ever wire money to a stranger. Do not allow greed to be your guide – be careful of offers higher than the asking price. If you believe that you are a victim of cashback fraud contact this site or call 1 888 495 8501.

9. Hidden Cell Phone Charges
If you own a cell phone and see new and unexplained charges on your bill each month, it may be due to premium text message services. People complain that they did not realize they were signing up for this service when they agreed to play an online game or to take an IQ test. In the end they receive monthly billings which do not come from their cell phone service providers, but through other third-party companies.

QUICK TIP: Premium subscription services require customers to confirm their subscription twice to insure they are aware of the cost per message, the frequency of messages and the opt-out information. Read all the terms and conditions when signing up for a game and think twice if you are required to provide your cell phone number. To file a complaint, contact the Commissioner for Complaints for Telecommunications Services here.

10. Mystery Jobs Scams
The scenario sounds too good to be true, and it is. You have been led to believe that you will be paid to mystery shop via a wire-transfer service. You receive a cheque, which you are told to deposit, keeping a small percentage of the money as your wage. You are then asked to send the back difference via a wire transfer and to complete a survey on the service you encounter. In the end, the cheque bounces and you lose all your money.

QUICK TIP: Be skeptical of mystery shopper ads in newspapers or online. In most cases these are bogus services requiring you to pay money upfront. Avoid companies that promise guaranteed jobs, and that sell directories of companies that provide mystery shoppers. To file a complaint contact the Competition Bureau site or call 1 800 348 5358. For mystery shopping work, go to the Mystery Shopping Providers Association (MSPA) website.

Below the 49th Parallel The American BBB reports the following as their top 10 frauds or scams for 2009:

  • Acai Supplements and Other “Free” Trial Offers – Ads offering trial offers for teeth whiteners, acai anti-aging pills and other miracle supplements blanket the Internet, including trusted Web sites of national news organizations. The marketing campaigns often falsely claimed an endorsement by Oprah, Rachel Ray and Doctor Oz. Thousands of consumers complained to BBB that the free trial actually cost them as much as hundreds of dollars, month after month.
  • Stimulus/Government Grant Scams – Even before President Obama announced the stimulus plan in February, scammers had already set up schemes for misleading consumers and small business owners into thinking they could get a piece of the pie. Offers for worthless assistance and advice on how to get government grants bombarded consumers online, over the phone and via mail and e-mail.
  • Robocalls – Owning a cell phone or having their phone number on the do-not-call list did not help thousands of people across the US put a stop to harassing automated telemarketing calls in 2009. The robocalls often claimed that their auto warranty was about to expire—which wasn’t true—or offered help in reducing their interest rate on their credit card. The prevalence of robocalls violating federal telemarketing laws prompted the FTC to increase restrictions on the practice in 2009.
  • Lottery/Sweepstakes Scam – The victim receives a letter in the mail pretending to be from Reader’s Digest, Publisher’s Clearing House or a phony foreign lottery claiming that he or she has won millions. The letter comes with a check that represents only a portion of the total winnings. In order to get the rest, the victim has to deposit the check and then wire hundreds of dollars back to the scammers supposedly to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.
  • Job Hunter Scams –Scams targeting job hunters vary and include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or social security numbers and requirements to pay a fee in order to even be considered for the job. Another common scam was reported to BBB by job hunters who were told by a prospective employer that they had to check their credit report before being considered for a job. The job offer is actually a marketing ploy for online credit monitoring that costs the victim every month until they cancel.
  • Google Work from Home Scam – Countless Web sites cropped up in 2009 that claimed you could learn how to make money from home using Google or Twitter and offered a free trial of learning materials. The Web sites often included the Google or Twitter moniker and logo. As a result, many people who complained to BBB thought they were getting a job with Google or Twitter when in, fact, they were being lured into another misleading free-trial offer and were billed every month for the materials and other mystery charges that added up to hundreds of dollars.
  • Mortgage Foreclosure Rescue/Debt Assistance – Many families are struggling in the current economy and hucksters are offering to help them save their house from foreclosure or help them get out of credit card debt. Unfortunately, victims are paying hundreds of dollars up front for the assistance they desperately need but ultimately never receive.
  • Mystery Shopping – Consumers across the country thought that they could make some extra money by becoming a secret shopper and evaluating the customer service of various stores. The victim is asked to evaluate their shopping experience at a few stores as well as a money wiring service such as Western Union or MoneyGram by wiring money back to the scammers. A seemingly real looking check is supposed to cover the costs, but ends up being a fake. The victim is out hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars.
  • Over-Payment Scams – Over-payment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or sites like Craigslist. Typically the scammer pretends to be a customer, possible renter or interested buyer, respectively. The victim receives a check for more than the amount requested. The scammers then ask the victim to deposit the check and wire the extra amount elsewhere, such as to a shipping company. Ultimately though, the check is fake and the victim is really wiring money back to the scammers.
  • Phishing e-mails/H1N1 spam – A perennial problem, phishing e-mails pop up in inboxes and can take various forms such as appearing to be from a business, a government agency or official or even a friend. Whatever the setup, the goal of any phishing e-mail is the same: to trick victims into divulging sensitive financial information or to infect the victim’s computer with viruses and malware. In addition to phishing e-mails, spam e-mail selling wares to prevent the spread of the H1N1 virus were particularly rampant in 2009.

Compare these to the 2008 top frauds reported by the The Canadian Better Business Bureau:

  • Counterfeit Cheques
  • Contractors
  • Work at home schemes
  • Phishing / Identity Theft
  • Employment Related Scams
  • Online Fraud
  • Investment / Loan Fraud
  • Lottery Scams
  • Economic Down Turn Scams
  • Phony Invoice Scams