Predators who target singles on online dating sites and text messages that lure cellphone users into revealing personal information are among the top scams that aim to separate consumers from their cash this year.
The number one scam of the year actually plays on the role of the bureau itself – fraudsters have sent millions of official-looking emails to people and businesses claiming they’re the subject of a BBB complaint and investigation and directing them to click a link that downloads a virus that steals banking information and passwords.
“The immediate fear is that your company’s reputation may be harmed by a complaint,” BBB president and CEO Danielle Primrose said. “And that is why the scam works so well.”
She said young people with smart phones can be particularly susceptible to text messaging scams that offer them gift cards at major retailers and lure them to a web site where they give up personal information.
Romance scams have spiked in activity, she said, noting more than 1,000 victims in Canada lost a combined $14 million last year.
Perpetrators always have an excuse why they can’t meet in person and build an online relationship with the victim before asking them to wire money for travel or to help with a heart-breaking family emergency.
“These are probably very under-reported,” Primrose said. “Who wants to admit that they’ve been taken advantage of simply for falling in love?”
Older schemes are also still making the rounds.
Rogue door-to-door contractors remain an ongoing problem.
And ‘curbers’ selling deficient used cars, often imported from the U.S., are expected to become a growing problem as a flood of vehicles damaged by Hurricane Sandy make their way to other jurisdictions, including B.C.
“Buy from somebody you have recourse against, such as a licensed dealer,” suggested Doug Longhurst of the Motor Vehicle Sales Authority of British Columbia.
He also urged car buyers to search the full vehicle history.
“If a vehicle has been in three or four states, there’s a pretty good chance it was essentially ‘washed’ through those states to get the title clean.”
Investment fraud remains a major problem for commercial crime investigators.
One such case involving a notary public snared more than 200 Lower Mainland investors last year and cost them $83 million, according to B.C. Securities Commission spokesman Andy Poon.
He said a survey last year found a quarter of B.C. residents aged 50 and up have experienced some sort of investment fraud in their lifetimes.
“One of the most significant barriers we face is reporting,” said RCMP Sgt. Duncan Pound. “Come forward and move past the embarassment. It could happen to anyone.”
Businesses continue to fall victims to phoney invoice scams, such as one where a Gabriola Island man bombarded businesses with fake invoices of about $140 each for a web hosting company. He raked in $150,000 before authorities caught him.
For the full list of top scams for this year and tips on how to avoid falling for them see www.mbc.bbb.org/top-ten-scams.