SACRAMENTO, CA - This information may come too late if you've already been ripped-off or had malware infiltrate your computer but it may prevent someone else from falling victim.
Tabulated from consumer complaints and inquiries, the Better Business Bureau released its top scams and rip-offs in 2011. Many of the frauds targeted Internet users.
Top sweepstakes and lottery scam
An email claiming to be from Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg announced the recipient was the winner of $1 million from Facebook. Not so.
Instead of clicking on a link you don't recognize and know, instead go directly to the homepage of the company mentioned. If it's truly giving away $1 million, there will be some kind of announcement on its website.
Top phishing scams
"Phishing" is when one is sent an email that installs a virus to hunt for personal data or receives a suspicious phone call asking for personal information. The phishing BBB received plenty of comment about was one disguised as official communication from NACHA - the National Automated Clearing House Association - which enables the secure transfer of billions of electronic transactions every year. The email claimed one of the recipient's transactions did not clear and urged the consumer to click a link. It may take the consumer to a bogus banking website to "verify" account information or it may download malware.
Then there was the BBB phishing scam. Hundreds of thousands of people received emails imitating an official notice from BBB. The subject line says something like "Complaint Against Your Business." The instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus launches. The virus can steal banking information, passwords and other critical pieces of information needed for cyber-theft. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If a computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned.
Top job scam
The job-related scam emails, websites and online applications look professional. Candidates are interviewed for the job (usually over the phone) and then receive an offer. But to begin work, however, the candidate must complete a "credit report" or provide bank information for direct deposit. The online forms are a way to capture sensitive personal data, such as one's Social Security number or bank account number, that can be used for identity theft.
Top check-cashing rip-off
They contact a seller via a craigslist.org posting and send the seller a check for more than the amount owed. The seller is then asked to deposit it into a bank account and send them the difference by a wire transfer. A deposited check takes a couple of days to clear, whereas wired money is gone instantly. When the original check bounces, the seller is out of the money wired and stuck with whatever her or she was trying to sell.
Top identity theft scam
A hotel guest receives a call on the phone in the middle of the night. The caller is the "front desk clerk" who is sorry to say the hotel computer has crashed and they need to get the guest's credit card number again, or they must have gotten the number wrong because the transaction won't clear. Scammers count on the guest being too sleepy to realize the call isn't from the hotel. By morning, the credit card has been fraudulently charged.
Top social media scam
Viral videos show up on social media sites, frequently appearing as if they have been shared by a friend. When one clicks on the link, a prompt to "upgrade your Flash player" appears, but the file that downloads contains a worm that logs into the social media account, sends similar messages to the recipient's friends, and searches for personal data.
Top sales scam
Although not all penny auction websites are scams, BBB recommends treating them the same way one would legal gambling: Know exactly how the bidding works, set a limit, and be prepared to walk away before exceeding that limit.
Top financial scam
About as soon as the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs, many sound-alike websites popped up. Often sounding like a government agency, or even part of BBB or other nonprofit consumer organization, most asked for a fee first to help deal with a mortgage company or government (services easily done for free). Almost all left unwary consumers in more debt than when they started.
Top home improvement scam
On should be suspicious of a home improvement "contractor" who usually, unsolicited, knocks on the door with a story or a deal. He's a roofer who can spot some missing shingles or the paver with some leftover asphalt who can give a great deal on driveway resealing. The property owner is often left with poor or undone work and out of money with the contractor not to be found. The worst are those who move in after a natural disaster, taking advantage of desperate homeowners who need immediate help and may not be as suspicious as they would be under normal circumstances.