The Most Popular Scams of 2010

  • A Year of Scams

    As if the tough economic times weren’t bad enough for Joe MainStreet, 2010 brought a fresh round of scams and rip-offs targeting consumers of all stripes. Sadly, many of these took advantage of economic despair, with scammers and unscrupulous businesses aiming at job hunters, loan seekers and people looking for some debt relief. The Better Business Bureau analyzed the complaints they received from consumers to see what scams were big in 2010, with special emphasis on new and fast-rising scams. Here, in no particular order, are the most popular scams of the year. Photo Credit: Don Hankins
    Job-Hunting Scams
  • Job-Hunting Scams

    With unemployment holding steady above 9% for the year, it’s no surprise that many scammers took advantage of those desperate for jobs. One common scam for job seekers to beware of involves a supposed employer calling to offer you a job, then telling you that they need to run a credit and background check before they can make it official. This might involve asking you to hand over sensitive financial information so they can run this “credit check” (which usually precipitates identity theft or a registration with a credit monitoring service) and they might even ask for an upfront payment to cover the cost of these checks. In the end, the job-hunter is left poorer – and still unemployed. Photo Credit: Cory Doctorow
    Work-From-Home Schemes
  • Work-From-Home Schemes

    One of the most pernicious forms of job-hunter scams, work-from-home schemes warranted their own entry on the BBB’s list. Anyone who’s browsed the Web has been bombarded by banner ads and pop-ups telling of ordinary people making six figures from their living room. Don’t believe the hype: You’ll likely wind up paying out of pocket to learn the “secrets” of working from home. As for the “job,” some victims discovered too late that it involved storing stolen goods.That’s not to say that there aren’t great work-from-home jobs. But be wary of any job offer that asks you to put up your own money. Photo Credit: Dan Vogel
    Debt Relief and Resettlement
  • Debt Relief and Resettlement

    Debt relief programs aren’t necessarily illegal, and some people have been able to settle their credit card debt by going through a third party. But many others have been duped by companies offering an easy fix to their debt problems. “They may try to make it sound easy, but it actually takes years,” says Alison Southwick of the Better Business Bureau, which has received such complaints from consumers in all 50 states since the recession began. Usually these firms will have you put money into an account that will be used to settle your debt; since you’re adding money to the account instead of paying your bills, your credit score gets even worse, and sometimes the creditor won’t even be willing to work with the resettlement company. In some cases, aggrieved customers have been unable to get their money back; with one woman losing $15,000, according to the BBB. Believe it or not, that’s not even the worst-case scenario. As MainStreet reported in 2009, some “credit repair” companies advise you to undertake a process known as “file segregation” – a move that could even get you tossed in jail. Photo Credit: Alan Cleaver
    Timeshare Reselling Schemes
  • Timeshare Reselling Schemes

    The timeshare scheme was one of the fastest-growing scams of 2010, and for good reason: Timeshare sales dropped by 40% in 2009, which left a lot of people desperate to sell their share in a nice vacation home. Enter unscrupulous real estate companies, who claim to have a buyer lined up and require thousands of dollars in upfront fees to pay for appraisal and closing costs. Once the fees have been paid, the mystery buyer disappears, as does the money. BBB points to a few companies in particular that have been the subject of multiple complaints, including Platinum Property Exchange and Premier Timeshare Solutions. Photo Credit: TheTruthAbout
    Free Trial Offers
  • Free Trial Offers

    If you take one thing from this article, let it be this: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Free trial offers were as popular as ever in 2010, with offers of the dietary supplement acai berry singled out for numerous complaints. As always, read the fine print very carefully – many people were swindled by “free trials” that actually lasted only a week, with bills arriving before the actual product did. It got so bad, the Federal Trade Commission actually stepped in and froze the assets of the companies marketing acai berry products. Photo Credit: dana robinson
    Home Repair Schemes
  • Home Repair Schemes

    They call them “storm chasers,” but these aren’t the scientists who drove around the country chasing tornadoes in Twister. Itinerant workers often flood into areas after bad storms, showing up at houses that have been damaged and offering repair services. Unfortunately, some of these workers are scammers whose repairs are sub-par, if completed at all. Roofers in particular were the subject of more than 7,600 complaints to the BBB, including hundreds of complaints specifically about American Shingle and Siding Inc., which was accused of doing shoddy work and sometimes not doing the promised job at all. The company eventually went out of business, but the BBB warns that it could resurface under a new name. In the meantime, homeowners who forked over cash to get their roof repaired are out of luck. Photo Credit: Bart Everson
    Lottery Scams
  • Lottery Scams

    Sure, your chances of hitting the Mega Millions jackpot may be astronomically low, but at least you only have to hand over a dollar to play. By contrast, these scams tell victims that they’ve already won and may even send a check to prove it. They will then ask you to wire them back thousands of dollars to cover administrative fees or taxes. By the time the scammers’ phony check bounces, they are gone with your money, and your dreams of living the high life have evaporated along with your savings. Photo Credit: Lisa Brewster
    Identity Theft
  • Identity Theft

    Identity theft is on the rise, with 11.2 million people falling victim in 2009 alone, according to a survey released in early 2010. That same survey found that the average identity theft victim loses nearly $5,000, so this can be among the costliest scams. Identity theft can be as high-tech as a massive corporate data breach or as low-tech as a purse snatch, so guard your personal information wherever you go. Photo Credit: CarbonNYC
  • Over-Payment

    Remember the “Chance” card in Monopoly that would declare a “Bank error in your favor”? In the real world, getting overpaid can actually be the precursor to a scam. If you’re selling a product or service online, the recipient may ‘accidentally’ send you a check for too much money, then ask you to wire them the difference when they “realize their mistake.” By the time you find out the original check was fake, they’ve disappeared with the money you wired them. If a buyer overpays for what you were selling, ask them to send a new check – or at least wait for the check to clear before you give them their refund. Photo Credit:
    Advance-Fee Loans
  • Advance-Fee Loans

    Desperate for cash, but don’t have the credit to qualify for a loan? So are thousands of other Americans, and they make prime targets for loan scammers who ask for an upfront fee before the loan can be processed. One company in Rhode Island scammed hundreds of dollars out of loan-seekers with this scheme. When the local news tried to get to the bottom of it, they discovered that the company’s phone number and address were just as phony as the loans. Photo Credit: stallio
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