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Scammers are afoot this Christmas

Business bureau releases their list of top 10 scams

'Tis the season to be wary

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Scammers lurk, they can be scary

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So be prepared and on your guard

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Or they'll get your cash and spend it hard

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It's that time of year when our thoughts ought to be about family, friends, gifts and the associated festivities.

But the Better Business Bureau, along with the B.C. Crime Prevention Association and Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority, is warning there are scammers afoot.

And, considering our volatile economy, a little extra vigilance in the face of scam artists can't hurt.

The three organizations yesterday released their Top 10 Scams of 2008 as a means to increasing awareness and ensuring the scammers get nothing but lumps of coal in their stockings this year.

The top 10 scams of 2008:

1. Economic downturn and loan scams: Be wary of opportunities to take out a cash advance or loan despite your credit rating. These types of opportunities often come with up-front fees and excessive interest charges. You should never have to pay cash in advance for a loan.

2. Home repair rip-offs: Don't fall victim to unscrupulous and unqualified people showing up at your home offering to do work for a low price. These fly-by-night operators come into communities for a short time and do shoddy work that often has to be redone.

3. Too good to be true business opportunities: You've been invited to a presentation involving an investment opportunity. You don't know anything about the company and are desperate to hear that it is legit. These investments appear lucrative but often are more hype than substance. The promoter convinces investors that they can be part owners of investment portfolios if they enlist new participants.

4. Bogus online ads: While online classified websites offer free access to hundreds of ads, beware that the listings are rarely vetted prior to posting. The seller may not be legitimate, and there may not be concert tickets, for example, coming to you in the end.

5. Cure-all health products: Fraudulent "cure-all" health products promise quick cures and easy solutions to a variety of problems, from obesity to diabetes and cancer. Any product that claims to be a miracle cure may be a fraud that could cheat you of time, money and, most importantly, your health.

6. Guaranteed vehicle brokers: After listing your used vehicle for sale in the classifieds, you receive a phone call from a company advising you that they have a purchaser for your vehicle. The caller asks for a fee guaranteeing that the purchaser will pay more than the advertised price. They promise that if you list your vehicle on their classified site and the vehicle is not sold within 90 days, you will get your money back. Unfortunately, your vehicle is not sold, the guarantee is not honoured, you can't reach the company, and you have lost the money you have given this company.

7. Prize offers: You may have attended a trade show and entered a draw for a free trip, and several days later you get a call that you have won. Or you receive a letter that states that you have won an international lottery or fabulous prize. The common trait with both of the "winnings" is that you must send them money, be available for a home delivery or a special presentation, or provide them with some very personal information such as your bank account or credit card number.

8. Bogus cheques and overpayment schemes: In this scam, fraudsters typically target people selling a product through classified ads, online bulletin boards or people looking for work on employment postings. The scammer sends a cheque for the listed product or service that is more than the negotiated price. The original cheque is usually stolen or is a fake, and by the time the victim has cashed and returned the excess funds, the scammer has disappeared with the money and the product.

9) Greenwashing scams: There are a number of products on supermarket shelves that are green, eco-friendly, all natural or environmentally safe. A study by TerraChoice Environmental Marketing found evidence of greenwashing -- making false or misleading green marketing claims -- in 99 per cent of products checked.

10. Spoofing attacks: You may receive an e-mail that looks like it is from an organization you know, or visit a website that looks like it is from your bank. When one person or program successfully masquerades as another by falsifying data, it's called spoofing. The key common tactic is to get you to either fill in personal information or download malicious software on to your computer to compromise your security and put your identity and money at risk.