The Better Business Bureau of Vancouver Island is getting the word out on the top 10 frauds and scams to watch for in 2016. The BBB has put together a list of the most reported scams of 2015 and is offering tips on how consumers can protect themselves from becoming a victim.
CRA Collection Scam – Aggressive telemarketers pretending to represent the Canadian Revenue Agency used aggressive and threatening tactics to scare taxpayers into paying a fictitious tax return debt. Victims were told they must make payment immediately by credit card (regular or pre-paid) or face court charges, jail or deportation.
Consumer Tip: Know that the CRA will never request payment for taxes by a prepaid credit card, nor will they ask you for private information that you would not already have included on your tax return such as your passport, health card or driver’s licence numbers. CRA will never leave personal information in a message, nor ask you to leave a message containing personal information.
Unclaimed Prize Scam – Automated phone recordings pretending to come from legitimate airlines, hotels or vacation booking agents lured consumers into believing they were eligible to win a vacation prize. When consumers tried to claim the prize they were connected to an operator that insisted on acquiring personal and credit card information in order to secure the winnings. No prize winnings were ever received.
Consumer Tip: Before giving out any personal information to “claim” a prize, ask to see the details of the prize in writing and carefully read the fine print. Some vacation prize giveaways may cost you more than you are willing to pay.
Computer Virus Telemarketing Scam – Consumers were aggressively targeted (by phone, email and online pop-ups) by fraudsters who inform them that their computer had been infected with a virus. In order to “fix” the problem, the victim is directed to a website, asked to provide their credit card information as payment, and told to download an anti-virus program.
Consumer Tip: Computer manufacturers will not contact you to let you know if there is a problem with your computer. Computer upgrades, maintenance and virus scanning are the responsibility of the computer owner. Treat all unsolicited contact with skepticism.
Imposters Phishing Scam – Many computer virus and phishing scams masquerade as the emails or websites of legitimate businesses and organizations. Using the logo and good name of reputable charities, non-profits, banks, government agencies and businesses, scam artists send out a variety of legitimate looking, but fake links designed for you to click on so that they can install malware on your computer or steal your private information (such as passwords and account information).
Consumer Tip: Never open an email, click on any links, or download any files unless you are certain you understand the reason you are receiving the email. If at any time you think you might have become the victim of a phishing or other computer, email or Internet scam, be sure to have your computer scanned by a trusted computer repair professional to see if any malware is present.
Vacation Rental Scam – Tourists renting condos or homes from private individuals found themselves out-of-luck and out of money when vacation rentals were fake, in disrepair, promised more than they offered or were unexpectedly canceled with no refund.
Consumer Tip: To avoid vacation nightmares, consumers should do careful research and work with a reliable professional rental agent to locate a vacation home rental. Get everything in writing and carefully read the fine print before making a deposit. Whenever possible pay with a credit card.
Fraudulent Kiosk Vendor – Customers reported dissatisfaction with products and services provided by transient kiosk vendors. Often found at markets, festivals, fairs and shopping plazas, kiosk vendors represent a wise range of large and small businesses, some legitimate and some not. A scammer, operating a temporary kiosk and using the name of a legitimate business, tricked victims into paying for services that were never rendered.
Consumer Tip: Before you make a purchase at a kiosk be sure to ask about how you can contact the vendor should you need to. Ask them about their return and exchange policy. Be sure to get a written receipt that clearly outlines the product you are purchasing and the vendors contact information.
Smishing (SMS Phishing) – Bogus text messages are sent to victims in attempt to lure them into unknowingly agreeing to accept large monthly charges to their credit card or downloading a virus, or malware onto their smart phone or other mobile devices.
Consumer Tip: Don’t take the bait. Stay away from promotions with phrases like “exclusive,” “shocking” or “sensational” footage. Don’t click on any links in a text unless you are certain where it is going or what it is that you will be downloading. Don’t respond to text messages from unknown sources. Don’t fall for texted opportunities to win a prize.
Online Stranger Danger – Consumers using online second-hand shopping and social media sites have found themselves getting ripped off or giving out private information to a stranger. Rips offs usually include misrepresentation of the product, purchasing of a fake or broken product, paying too much or paying up front and never receiving the item.
Consumer Tip: When shopping online use extreme caution and make sure you truly understand who you are doing business with and the risk associated with doing business with strangers. Ask detailed questions about the product or service you want to purchase. If you need to meet to make an in person trade, be sure to do so in a public location or that another person is also around.
Helpful Harry/Helen – Homeowners and renters have found themselves in hot water after hiring helpful neighbours, local teenagers, or “in the area” contractors to assist with home, yard and vehicle maintenance. In some instances victims were simply ripped off, in others the work completed was of poor quality and cost more to repair or was never finished.
Consumer Tip: Before you hire anyone to help you with your home, yard or vehicle maintenance make sure they are qualified to do so. Outline in writing the expectations and details of the work to be completed, as well as a payment schedule. Don’t pay in full until the work has been completed as agreed upon. Make sure that the person you hire has sufficient insurance to cover any accidents.
Counterfeit Merchandise – The Internet is filled with online stores and auction sites marketing alluring, cheaply priced, counterfeit products being pitched as the real thing. Legitimate Gucci handbags and Rolex watches do not come cheap, no matter what the sale price. Before you buy any product online, be sure you know the difference between a real and a fake.
Consumer Tip: The key to protecting yourself from eShopping swindles is to do your research, understand the product and always know who you are doing business with. Just like you would with a bricks and mortar business you want to know you can trust the seller. Be sure to use a secure payment system like a credit card or electronic escrow service. Visit bbb.org to look up business reviews for online stores across North America.