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BBB unveils its top 10 scams of 2013

Ordinarily, I prefer to focus on a specific scam in this column, but I’m going to make an exception this week now that the Council of Better Business Bureaus has released its “Top Ten Scams of 2013.”

While I’ve written about some of these since this column launched last summer, I thought it would be useful to share what the council – the umbrella organization for the 113 local bureaus in the U.S. and Canada – deemed to be its top scams of the year.

“These are not necessarily the scams with the biggest losses, or those with the most victims, as many people don’t report scams or even know they’ve been victimized,” said council spokeswoman Katherine Hutt in a news release announcing the scams last month. “These are the scams that seemed to be the most widespread, aimed at the most vulnerable, growing in popularity, or just plain audacious.”

So here they are in the order in which they were listed:

  • Medical alert scam: As I wrote back in January, this telemarketing scam preys on seniors by misleading them into thinking that a family member or friend has purchased a medical-alert device on their behalf. All they have to do, they are told, is to provide either bank or credit-card information, which triggers an immediate $35 monthly service charge. And, in many cases, they never get the device, either.
  • Auction reseller scam: In this scheme, buyers on eBay or other auction sites persuade the seller to ship the item they purchased prior to payment because of a family emergency. The buyer then generates a phony PayPal email notice to confirm payment, which, of course, never arrives.
  • Arrest warrant scam: Here’s another one I touched on a few times last year. Using “spoofing” technology to fool caller ID devices, scam artists impersonate law-enforcement officials and claim they have a warrant for your arrest unless you agree to pay a fine immediately by wire transfer or a prepaid debit card. Naturally, no such warrant exists.
  • Invisible home improvements: In this popular scheme, unscrupulous repair crews knock on your door or contact you online to say they just so happen to be in the neighborhood and therefore can give you a “great deal” on a home-improvement project. Many times, the shoddy work targets areas that are difficult for the homeowner to inspect, such as air ducts, chimneys, crawl spaces, etc.
  • Casting call scam: While not as prevalent as others, the BBB says this scam is on the rise, thanks to the popularity of TV shows such as “American Idol” and “Project Runway.” Here, individuals pose as agents or talent scouts and persuade you to pay for the privilege of trying out for a part that doesn’t exist.
  • Foreign currency scam: Scam artists convince you to invest in what they describe as “low-risk, high-return” currencies in foreign countries, which they claim are bound to rise when the governments revalue them. And while you may take possession of the currency in question, it turns out it isn’t that easy to sell and is unlikely to rise in value as much as promised.
  • Scam texts: Known as “smishing,” these are texts purportedly from your bank asking you to confirm information or “reactivate your debit card” by clicking on a link on your smartphone. The result? Scammers may steal your private banking information or download malware that gives them access to data stored on your phone.
  • Do Not Call scams: How’s this for irony? Con artists call you to either register or confirm your participation in the National Do Not Call list. If you express interest, they will ask for your name, address and Social Security number, or try to convince you to pay a fee to join the free registry.
  • Fake friend scam: Scam artists are reaching out on Facebook to “friend” people as a pretense for stealing their online identities and then recommending shady websites that can download malware or create other havoc on your computer or phone.
  • Affordable Care Act scam: This one earned the BBB’s designation as its “Scam of the Year” – and with good reason. The passage of the law gave scam artists numerous opportunities to con Americans into parting with sensitive personal and financial information. This includes one ruse I wrote about last fall that misled seniors into thinking they had to sign up for a new Medicare card under the law.

I hope you found this list useful. If you have been the target or victim of any of these scams, please contact me and I’ll consider dedicating a future column to that topic.

Nick Pappas is assistant business editor at the Albuquerque Journal. Contact him at, 505-823-3847 or on Twitter at @nickpapp if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-800-678-1508.