Top 10 scams: social media traps, bogus charities, fake texts and more

Con artists knock on our doors at home, sneak into our computers and smartphones and dig in garbage for personal information.

Every year, the Better Business Bureau serving Vancouver Island, the Gulf Islands, Powell River, and Haida Gwaii receives hundreds of complaints about a range of schemes.

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“All of them cost people a lot of money,” said Rosalind Scott, president and chief executive officer of the Vancouver Island BBB, said Monday in unveiling the top 10 scams of 2012.

The Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre estimates a total cross-country loss to 7,258 victims of mass-marketing fraud at $35.4 million between January and June of last year. And it estimates that only represents less than five per cent of the total number of victims. Most never report them.

The BBB urges all to beware of the top 10 scams:

1. Social media scams. Offers to download apps, freebies and discounts appear on social networking sites. If you click on a malicious link, your computer or smartphone could end up with a virus or spyware. Tip: Be wary of posts from unknown sources, and of offers that seem too good to be true. Have anti-virus protection on devices.

2. Door-to-door scams. These show up every year. Salespeople can be aggressive, insist on cash payment up front and demand that cheques be made out to an individual rather than a company. Tip: Don’t give in to pressure. Check out the business first on the web at vi.bbb.org. Get a written contract, read the fine print and make payments to a company, not an individual.

3. Fake charities. Be cautious of unfamiliar charities seeking donations via social media, email, or by door-to-door. Watch out for high-pressure tactics, requests for cash, and beware of those that do not give receipts. Tip: Give to reputable, well-known organizations. You can check out charities at BBB or the Canada Revenue Agency at www.cra-arc.gc.ca/chrts-gvng/lstngs/menu-eng.html. Keep records of donations, including receipts, cancelled cheques and bank statements.

4. Identity theft. Someone wants your personal and financial information to obtain credit cards, loans, or goods and services. Tip: Watch out for online scams such as links that ask for personal information or give you something to download, which could install spyware. Identity theft can take place through mail fraud, dumpster diving, and through family, friends or employees stealing bank-account information, the BBB warns.

The RCMP recommends victims file a report with local police, inform their financial institution and credit-card companies and contact the two national credit bureaus and place a fraud alert on credit reports. Equifax Canada’s toll-free-number is 1-800-465-7166. TransUnion Canada’s toll-free number is 1-877-525-3823

Contact the Canadian Anti-Fraud Centre on the web, at antifraudcentre-centreantifraude.ca. The federal centre can be reached toll-free at 1-888-495-8501. or send an email to info@antifraudcentre.ca

5. Point-of-sale scams. These take place when using debit or credit cards and PIN numbers. Tip: Keep cards in sight while paying for something. Make sure no one sees your PIN. Do not let a sales clerk swipe your card through a second machine.

6. Credit-repair scams. Fraudsters call pretending to be with a reputable organization with offers of debt consolidation or improving credit ratings. They will ask for collect personal information and charge fees in advance. Tip: Do your research and comparison shop.

7. Senior home-repair scam. Unqualified people offering unsolicited services. They can use high-pressure tactics, want money up front and no contract. Tip: Be suspicious of door-to-door sales. Call police if they won’t leave your property. Again, check them out on the BBB, get references, a detailed written contract and compare prices.

8. Online shopping scams. These include stolen gift cards, phishing scams (obtaining information electronically by pretending to be reputable) and counterfeit products. Tip: Shop on a legitimate and reputable site, and be cautious of giving out private information.

9. Online auctions and classified ads. Buyers or sellers can be con artists. Tip: Research the site, its policies and practices, examine peer reviews and be aware of the risk of doing business with a stranger.

10. Texting scams. Advertisers have been reported to send text messages to mobile users offering discounts, deals or other opportunities, which result in victims being tricked into signing up for monthly services with expensive additional fees, or into providing personal information that is sold to affiliate companies and unethical marketers. Tip: Do not respond to texts from any numbers that you do not recognize. Always read the fine print and privacy policies carefully before signing up for any services.

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