BBB shares top scams of 2017


By John North - Contributing columnist



DAYTON — Better Business Bureau launched BBB Scam Tracker to provide consumers across North America with a place to report scams and fraud, and to warn others of malicious or suspicious activities. All BBBs operating in Canada and the United States are now collecting information from consumers and processing data, which is shared with law enforcement agencies for use in identifying and prosecuting scammers.

The free interactive online tool – found at bbb.org/scamtracker – offers a heat map showing where scams are being reported. People can search using a variety of filters to see what scams are happening in their area, track a particular type of scam or even see how much money has been lost. Users can also report scams they hear about, whether or not they have fallen victim.

After reviewing the Scam Tracker data for Dayton and the Miami Valley for 2017, BBB found the top five scams reported locally involved:

Phishing. In a phishing scam, you’re contacted out of blue over phone, e-mail or text and asked for personal information. Many of these communications are from imposters masquerading as trustworthy businesses and organizations. They are “phishing” for your Social Security number, passwords, credit card information or other personal details for use in identity theft. Tips regarding this scam:

1. If something sounds suspicious, confirm it by calling the company or checking the company website. Type the URL directly into your browser or do a web search. DON’T click on any links in unexpected messages.

2. Be cautious of generic e-mails. Scammers try to cast a wide net by including little or no specific information in their fake e-mails. Always be wary of messages that don’t contain your name, last digits of your account number or other personalizing information.

Tax Collection. The main theme is scammers pose as an Internal Revenue Service representative and attempt to coerce you into either paying up or sharing personal information. These scams are most often perpetrated by phone and take two basic forms. In the first version, the IRS “agent” says you owe back taxes and pressures you into paying by prepaid debit card or wire transfer. If you don’t comply, the scammer threatens you with arrest and fines. In the other version, scammers claim they are issuing tax refunds and will ask you for personal information under the guise of transferring a refund. This information can later be used for identity theft. Tips to spot this scam:

1) You are pressured to act immediately. Scammers typically try to push you into action before you have had time to think. The IRS will give you the chance to ask questions or appeal what you owe and their first contact with you will always be by mail, not phone or e-mail.

2) Payment must be made by wire transfer, prepaid debit card or other non-traditional payment methods. These methods are largely untraceable and non-reversible. The IRS will never demand these forms of payment.

Debt Collection. The scammer calls and tells you they work for a loan company, law firm or government agency and claims to be collecting an overdue payment. When you reply you don’t owe money, the “debt collector” starts to make threats of suing you, having your wages garnished, arresting you or forcing you to appear in court thousands of miles from home. In most cases, the alleged overdue loan doesn’t even exist. Don’t give in and pay money you don’t owe. If you do, the scammer will likely be back for more. If you’re contacted by one of these scammers:

1. Ask the debt collector to provide official “validation notice” of the debt. In the U.S., debt collectors are required by law to provide this information in writing. The notice must include the amount of the debt, the name of the creditor and a statement of your rights. If the self-proclaimed collector won’t provide the information, hang up.

2. Ask for more information. If you do owe money and aren’t sure if the caller is real, ask for their name, company, street address and telephone number. Do not provide any bank account, credit card or other personally identifiable information over the phone. If the collector is legitimate, they should have details on the accounts in question.

Sweepstakes/Lotteries/Prizes. You receive an e-mail or phone call allegedly from a contest organizer informing you you’ve won a prize. To claim your winnings, you need to first pay taxes, shipping costs or other fees. You are urged to send the money by wire transfer or buy a prepaid debit card and share the number and PIN with the “contest organizer.” In another version, you receive a letter informing you you’ve won a jackpot, often from a foreign lottery (it is illegal in the U.S. to enter a foreign lottery by phone or mail). The letter includes a seal or other insignia to make it look authentic. There is even a check to cover the taxes on the winnings. You are instructed to deposit the check into your bank account and wire or use a prepaid debit card to send the “taxes” to a third party. The check is a fake and you are out the money. Remember:

1. Don’t pay upfront fees to claim a prize. No legitimate sweepstakes company will ever ask you to pay a fee or buy something to enter or improve your chances of winning — that includes paying “taxes,” “shipping and handling charges” or “processing fees” to get your prize.

2. Be aware a check can bounce even after your bank allows you to withdraw cash from the deposit. Even if a bank representative tells you a check has “cleared” you can’t be sure it won’t be detected as a fake weeks later. One thing you can be sure of is you will be on the hook for any funds drawn against the amount.

3. You’ve got to play to win. A notification you have won a prize in a contest you do not remember entering should be a red flag. If you do regularly enter contests or sweepstakes, make sure you keep track of your entries so you can easily check to see if you have actually entered a contest that contacts you.

Tech Support. A scammer posing as a computer repair or security service contacts people to fix problems with their computers. Some of the ways scammers target potential victims include: warning screens, cold calls, sponsored links and e-mails. If you are a victim of this scam…

1. Contact your bank immediately.

2. Take your computer to a trusted local business and have it checked out. Also, have any software that authorizes remote access to your computer removed. In addition, change the passwords of any online access to financial institutions and other sensitive sites.

If you feel you’ve been a victim of a scam, contact your BBB by visiting bbb.org or calling 937- 222-5825 or 800-776-5301. You can also report it to BBB’s Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

About your BBB Serving Dayton and the Miami Valley

For more than 100 years, Better Business Bureau has been helping people find businesses, brands and charities they can trust. In 2014, people turned to BBB more than 165 million times for BBB Business Reviews on more than 4.7 million businesses and Charity Reports on 11,000 charities, all available for free at bbb.org. BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley is one of 113 local, independent BBBs across the United States, Canada and Mexico. BBB serving Dayton and the Miami Valley serves seven and half Ohio counties, including Clark, Darke, Greene, Miami, Montgomery, Preble, Shelby and northern Warren counties. Your Dayton-based BBB is unique in that it provides business solutions and consumer services in specialized areas to other BBBs, businesses and consumers. It remains focused on the Miami Valley, but through these key products and services, it is an international organization.

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By John North

Contributing columnist

The writer is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Dayton.

The writer is president/CEO of the Better Business Bureau in Dayton.

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