Saturday, January 27, 2007


The Better Business Bureau (BBB) serving Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois releases its first Dirty Dozen Scams list. “We started the ‘Dirty Dozen Scams’ list in response to real public need that we see every day,” says Michelle L. Corey, president & CEO of the BBB. “People are getting taken by con artists and suffering severe losses. We have had great support from our members and local consumer protection, business, and law enforcement agencies to identify the worst scams to impact Eastern Missouri & Southern Illinois residents. Along with the Dirty Dozen Scams list are practical tips you can use to protect yourself from becoming a victim of con artists.” Here’s the list, in no particular order.

1) Identity Theft – ID Theft occurs when thieves steal your personal information from your mailbox, garbage, recycling box, computer or by asking you questions via phone, mail, fax or email about your banking or credit card information, passwords or Social Security Number.

Consumer Tip: Never give out your personal or banking information. Store all documents containing personal information in a locked cabinet and shred before discarding. Keep your passwords and Social Security Number confidential. Monitor your account statements monthly and check your credit report annually. If you suspect you are a victim of ID theft contact your local police or the Federal Trade Commission and financial institutions immediately.

2) Medicare Card Fraud –Illegal door-to-door or telephone solicitation scams selling “Medicare-approved” discount drug cards, have been reported across the country. Consumers are advised to be suspicious of any solicitation that asks for their banking, Social Security, Medicare or credit card information.

Consumer Tip: You will be able to confirm that the cards are legitimate by checking the government’s Web site at or by calling 1-800-MEDICARE. When considering a drug discount card, it is best to shop around. Do not jump at the first offer. Look for the card that will bring the best discount and can be used at local pharmacies.

3) Bogus Checks / Overpayment Schemes – In this scam, fraudsters typically target people selling a product via classified ads or online bulletin boards. The buyer/scammer sends a check for a product or service for more than the negotiated price. The scammer then requests that the seller deposit the money and return the excess funds. The original check is typically stolen or fake, and by the time the victim has cashed and returned excess funds the scammer has disappeared with the money and the product.

Consumer Tip: Never accept payment for more than your selling price and never agree to refund excess money to an unknown buyer. When accepting a check from a stranger hold the product and the money in your account until the check officially clears at the bank.

4) Internet Fraud – Beware of fake websites, emails (phishing scams) and Voice Over IP phone calls (vishing scams) from scam artists pretending to be legitimate businesses, asking for your personal or banking information. Also beware of sellers from online auctions who try to lure you outside the security of the online auction site, or who ask you to download programs (usually viruses or password stealing software) in order to transact business with them. The Internet is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and offers shopping that can be just as safe as stores or mail orders. However, on the web, cyberspace crooks have the potential to perpetuate scams quickly, leaving no paper trails and bypassing all geographic boundaries.

Consumer Tip: Only enter personal or credit card information on secured websites. Look for the letter “s” (https://) and for an unbroken padlock symbol to determine if the site is secure. Check for the BBBOnLine Reliability Seal on each Web site. Never download programs to your computer from unknown sources.

5) Health, Beauty & Fitness Claims – Fraudulent health treatment claims are a growing concern in the marketplace. Beware of too good to be true advertisements promising “rapid & effortless weight-loss,” “miracle cures,” or “newly discovered” treatments for disease and illness.

Consumer Tip: Before buying any treatment or medication or joining any health and fitness program, consult your physician, pharmacist or other health care professional. Before signing any contract take the time to read the fine print and ensure you understand your contractual obligations and the cancellation or refund policy.

6) Lottery & Sweepstake Scams – Victims are informed they have won a large lottery prize or sweepstake, and often are sent a check for a few thousands dollars of winnings. The “winners” then are asked to pay back a small portion to cover taxes and/or processing fees, before accessing their winnings. The victim sends money and never receives his or her winnings. Any checks sent by the lottery company are fake or stolen, and do not clear the bank.

Consumer Tip: Legitimate lotteries and sweepstakes will not require you to pay money in order to receive your prize. Do not respond to lottery or sweepstake scams, as responding to one solicitation typically opens the door to dozens more. To reduce unsolicited marketing offers from such organizations, register with your state’s Attorney General’s “Do-Not-Call” list.

7) Advanced Fee Loans - The scenario is all too common: a consumer receives a call or e-mail or sees an advertisement for a pre-approved loan or credit card and calls to receive an application. The company says yes, they can offer you a loan regardless of your credit history, if you pay an up-front "insurance," "security," or "processing," fee in advance. Too often, those with bad credit - who can least afford it - end up losing their up-front fee and never hear from the company again.

Consumer Tip: It's against the law to ask you to pay - or accept payment - for services until you get your loan or credit..Legitimate lenders never ask you to pay for processing your application. Never give your credit card account number, bank account information, or Social Security number over the telephone or Internet unless you are familiar with the company and know why the information is necessary.

8) Home Repair Rip-Offs – The construction industry is plagued with fly-by-night scam artists who show up on your doorstep offering to do house and yard work for exorbitant fees. Home repair rip-off artists typically request that you pay fees up front before the work is completed, refuse to provide a written receipt and complete work poorly. Watch out for companies that knock on your door offering to do work, regularly over bill or that charge for services you have not requested.

Consumer Tip: When you need work completed around your home get estimates from a minimum of three contractors who have permanent addresses in your area. Visit to check the company’s Reliability Report before agreeing to do business.

9) Bogus Charities – Scam artists pretending to represent a charity often contact victims by phone or show up on the door step during the same fundraising cycles as legitimate charities. Watch out for bogus charities with names that sound like legitimate ones.

Consumer Tip: Ask all fundraisers for their name, the charity name and their contact information before considering a donation. Ask how much of your donation actually goes to the program. Visit the BBB Wise Giving Alliance at for a list of charities that have been evaluated. Reports on locally soliciting charities are available at

10) Work-At-Home Schemes – Work-at-home con artists have always preyed most heavily upon senior citizens, the disabled, mothers who want to stay at home with their children, people with low income and few job skills, and people who just want to get rich quick.

Consumer Tip: To avoid falling for work-at-home scams, both on- and off-line, look for the following warning signs: Overstated claims of product effectiveness; exaggerated claims of potential earnings, profits, or part-time earnings; claims of "inside" information; requirements of money for instructions or products before telling you how the plan works; and claims of "no experience necessary.”

11) Resort Vacation Promotions – Free or low cost exotic vacation packages or prizes often come with hidden costs and several hours of high pressure sales meetings.

Consumer Tip: If it sounds too good to be true it probably is. Don’t sign up for any vacation package promotion without knowing what you are really getting into. Ask lots of questions about the realistic costs, insurance coverage and sales seminar requirements. Get the details in writing before you commit to the vacation.

12) Directory Scams – In these scams businesses are typically invited to submit their company contact information for publication in a business directory for distribution on CD-Rom. By submitting their contact information, the business unintentionally has committed to paying an exorbitant advertising fee to be listed in a directory that often is only distributed to other advertisers.
Consumer Tip: Read the fine print before giving out business information and before signing any document.