Word to the wary: There's a scammer who might be out to get you. That's the message from the Better Business Bureau, which released its 2010 list of the Top 10 most-reported consumer scams. The annual list is based on complaints filed at 132 BBB offices in the United States and Canada.
"None of these are new, but they're persistent. Every time the economy wanes, job scams, advance-fee loans and debt settlement scams become even more common," said Gary Almond, president of the BBB's Northeast California office.
Here's the list of common scams:
1. Job hunting
Scams targeting job hunters include online attempts to steal personal information, such as bank account or Social Security numbers, as well as phony job offers requiring an upfront fee.
2. Debt relief services
Nationally, complaints about debt relief/debt settlement services increased 30 percent last year, primarily due to high upfront fees or no results that left consumers deeper in debt.
3. Work-from-home scams
Some claim they'll teach the "secrets" of making money online, others promise paid work assembling items at home or being a mystery shopper. Or the "job" is a cover to fence stolen goods. Job applicants are often asked to spend money upfront for work supplies. Instead of getting paid, consumers end up losing hundreds of dollars or more.
4. Reselling time shares
Time-share owners desperate to unload their unwanted vacation properties are targeted by companies claiming they have an eager buyer. Sellers pay several thousand dollars to "cover fees," then never hear from the company again. Nationwide, the BBB said, complaints about the time-share industry -- including deceptive resellers -- increased more than 40 percent last year.
5. "Free" trial offers
Misleading free trial offers for diet supplements, penny auctions and money-making schemes are rampant online. Consumers complain of getting billed every month and/or difficulty canceling their "free trial offer" contract.
6. Home/roof repair
Beware of door-to-door salesmen or itinerant workers who fail to deliver on promises to fix the roof, patch the driveway or do other home repairs.
Often targeted at seniors, the typical victim receives a "congratulatory" letter or phone call claiming to be from Reader's Digest, Publishers Clearing House or a foreign lottery. Victims are conned into wiring hundreds of dollars to cover bogus fees or taxes on their "winnings." The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.
8. Identity theft
It can happen myriad ways: mail theft, phishing e-mails, phony text messages, computer hacking, a corporate data breach. Each year, millions fall victim to identity theft that seeks to steal financial information.
9. Advance-fee loans
These scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must first pay upfront fees, often more than $1,000. The victim wires the money but never receives a loan.
10. Overpayment schemes
These typically target landlords, small business owners or individuals with rooms to rent or items to sell in newspaper classified ads or on Craigslist. The scammers overpay by check, then ask to have the extra wired back to them. Often, the check is forged and the victim is out the money.
To avoid being scammed, always do your research before signing any contract or paying any money. Make sure any individual is properly licensed and a company is an established business.