Top 10 scams of 2012
Gold-buying rip-offs, phony locksmiths and online penny auctions are some of the newest and most troubling scams to hit the Vancouver area, according to the Better Business Bureau.
The BBB released its annual list of the top 10 scams Wednesday, and warned that fraudsters are constantly adapting to be in line with changing times.
"We have human emotions and these people are so clever at responding to emotions. The gold-buying schemes came out in the [bad] economy. The penny auction schemes came out when the economy took a downturn. Any of these bogus charities come out when there's a natural disaster. They work on human emotion," BBB president Lynda Pasacreta told reporters.
This year's list includes five new scams, such as the gold-buying schemes that consumer advocates have been speaking out about for the last year as the price of gold skyrocketed. In the century since the Lower Mainland BBB was founded, the price of gold has risen from just $18.93 per ounce to more than $1,735 an ounce, giving criminals ample opportunity to pounce on the unwary.
This year's top scams also include old standbys like financial abuse of the elderly and unscrupulous door-to-door salespeople.
The BBB's list of Top 10 Scams for 2012
The rise in gold prices means that consumers are rushing to cash in their gold jewelry, but they aren't always getting a fair return. The BBB's advice is to choose a local appraiser that you know and trust and to seek multiple opinions on the worth of your jewelry.
Penny auction scams chip away at consumers' bank accounts slowly. These require users to set up an online account to place small bids on things like iPads and other electronics. While individual bids often cost less than $1, users still have to pony up the cash for bids on items they didn't win.
The BBB warns against online ads for "local" locksmiths that actually direct consumers to call centres in other cities. People who have used these services complain they overcharge, give bad advice and do shoddy work
This twist on "phishing" is used by criminals who impersonate trusted organizations like banks and government agencies in emails to collect bank account numbers, PINs and social insurance numbers. The BBB recommends against giving your credit information online or over the phone unless you are sure of the caller's identity.
In this scam, a caller claims to be from Microsoft and warns the target of a serious problem with their computer. To fix the supposed problem, the victim is directed to a website where they are told to download a program and pay a fee for a preventative service. The scheme leaves the computer user with damaging malware and spyware on their machine.
In response to the introduction of smart meters by BC Hydro, scammers are posting false or deceptive ads about energy-saving devices that don't actually work or comply with safety standards.
Advance fee loans
Ads that guarantee loans online convince people to complete credit applications for loans of up to $100,000 and claim that the money will be sent once a fee is paid. After payment, the loan is never received as promised.
Financial elder abuse
Scammers can take advantage of vulnerable seniors in a number of ways, including by encouraging unnecessary home repairs, and conducting telemarketing and mail fraud. The BBB warns that even close friends and family can be guilty of swindling the elderly.
The BBB is warning against aggressive salespeople who bully consumers into buying substandard and expensive products and services like roofing, paving and vacuum cleaners.
With social network sites like Facebook and Twitter becoming omnipresent, users are often targeted with schemes that look like advertisements and personal messages. Fraudulent work-at-home job offers, deceptive "free trials" and computer viruses are sent through tweets or Facebook posts.