Every year, the Better Business Bureau serving Central SC and Charleston receives thousands of reports from consumers who have been scammed … or from consumers who relied on a bad gut feeling and were able to dodge the scheme. Some scams are widespread, taking a lot of people for small amounts. Others are more narrowly focused but take individuals or families for thousands or tens of thousands of dollars. BBB warns consumers to be on the lookout for the top five summer scams of 2017.
- With promises of a “free” medical alert system, this “Medical Alert Scam” targets seniors and caregivers by claiming to offer the system free of charge because a family member or friend has already paid for it. In many cases, seniors are asked to provide their bank account or credit card information to “verify” their identity, and as a result, were charged a $35 monthly service fee. The system, of course, never arrives, and seniors are left struggling to obtain a refund of the $35 monthly service fee. As an easy rule of thumb, the BBB advises consumers to be wary of “free” offers that require your personal information up front and urges individuals to always verify with the supposed friend or family member that they actually paid for the service before agreeing to accept it.
- While the appeal of selling a timeshare is real, some of these potential buyers may not be. Some fraudulent operators target sellers of timeshares with promises they have a buyer ready to purchase the timeshare or assurances they can sell it. The timeshare scammer will require that the current owners pay up front fees for services, closing costs, maintenance, etc; however once they send the money, they never hear from the scammer again. Always remember to check with BBB before doing business, verify credentials, be wary of up front fees and don’t fall for offers that sound too good to be true.
- In perhaps one of the most prevalent scams currently, someone calls or emails an individual to congratulate them on winning the Canadian or Spanish lottery but the caller needs $5,000 for “delivery insurance.” To convince the individual that it’s legit, the caller directs you to the U.S. Consumer Protection Bureau’s website. The only problem is – the organization and the website are fake. The intended victim may call a number on that site to verify it, but the person who answers is also part of the scheme. After sending the $5000 “delivery insurance” fee, the unlucky winner never receives the promised winnings. The BBB warns that foreign lotteries are illegal and participation in one violates federal law.
- Similar to the foreign lottery scam, an individual may receive a phone call from an 876 area code. The gentleman on the other end of the line is calling to say that the individual has won the Publishers Clearinghouse Sweepstakes, which consists of a large amount of money and a new Mercedes Benz. He makes promises that the prize patrol is waiting to deliver the new car and money, but first, the winner must purchase a Green Dot MoneyPak card and load it with the amount he advises to cover “taxes,” “processing fees,” and so on. Once the individual calls the man back and gives him the Green Dot card number, they never hear from him again and the money is gone. No prize patrol, no sweepstakes money and no Mercedes Benz. The BBB reminds consumers that if you’ve won money or prizes, you should never send money to collect your winnings.
- Utility bills are necessary for adequate shelter; therefore, this makes utility bills a prime opportunity for scammers. In this scam, an individual receives a phone call and the person on the other end of the line identifies himself as a representative from the local electric, water or gas company. He tells the consumer that they are late on their bill and need to pay immediately or the utilities will terminate. Instead of accepting payment by credit card or check, the caller wants the consumer to pay with a Green Dot MoneyPak card, which allows the scammers to steal the funds and disappear. Utility companies will never call customers and threaten immediate service disconnection. A lengthy process takes place; typically involving multiple written notices to the customer advising the account is delinquent.
These are just a handful of scams that target seniors. Contact your Better Business Bureau to report fraud or to check into suspicious offers at (803)254-2525 • (843) 766-9616 or visit us online at bbb.org