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Top scams of 2009

People are still falling for bogus lotteries and work-at-home rip-offs.

By Teresa Mears Dec 9, 2009 2:15PM

Every time you turn around, it seems as if someone has come up with a new scam. And then there are a few that never seem to go away.


Just last week, the Ohio attorney general warned about a new scam related to H1N1 flu, in which  an e-mail directed consumers to create a “personal vaccination profile” on a site that mimicked the Web site of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Follow the instructions, and you won’t get an e-mail but a virus, in your computer, reported Jill Kelley on the Dayton Daily News’ Here’s the Deal blog.


 “Any time you receive an e-mail from someone you are not familiar with, I strongly recommend avoiding the provided links,” Ohio Attorney General Richard Cordray warned. “Clicking on that link can unleash downloadable viruses capable of capturing your personal information and sending it back to the scam artist.”


Then we have the 12 scams of Christmas, the 12 most dangerous online scams circulating this year, including charity phishing scams and holiday e-cards carrying computer worms.

Kate Forgach of’s Go Frugal blog has compiled a list of the top 10 scams of 2009, with advice from the Better Business Bureau on how to avoid becoming a victim.

Here is her list, the BBB’s advice and a few more tips from the Smart Spending team:

  1. Work-at-home schemes. If a work-at-home ad asks you to pay upfront for information, be wary. In fact, the BBB advises never paying upfront or providing personal information to someone you don’t know.
  2. Bogus credit counseling offers. Debt consolidation or counseling services offer to help you lower your interest rates on your credit card balances -– if you pay them a substantial fee upfront. Run, don’t walk, to the nearest nonprofit credit counseling agency, which provides free advice.
  3. Lottery scams. If you win the lottery, you don’t have to pay upfront to collect your winnings. Beware of letters and e-mails saying you’ve won millions in European, Canadian or Australian lotteries -– but you have to send money to collect. The Island Packet in Hilton Head, S.C., wrote a story just this week about an elderly couple who lost their life savings, tens of thousands of dollars, in lottery scams.
  4. Vacation scams. Surprise, you’ve won a free vacation!  But we need your credit card number to give it you. Oops. I guess it isn’t free, is it?
  5. Advance-fee loans. Have you seen ads offering to give you a loan, no matter what your credit, but you’ll need to pay a “small fee” upfront? Once they collect the fee, the companies disappear. A legitimate loan doesn’t require a fee upfront; the costs are added to the balance of the loan.
  6. Identity theft. All kinds of scams proliferate through social-networking sites, such as Facebook and MySpace. To protect your identity, be wary of posting too many personal details (including your birth date), responding to "phishing" e-mails and clicking on a link to access what appears to be your bank or another reputable agency.
  7. Home repair rip-offs. This one predates the Internet era, but it is still with us. Be careful of people who come to your door with offers to do everything from trimming trees to roofing at a low price. They usually take your money, then do subpar work. If you are considering hiring someone to work on your house, ask for copies of licenses and insurance and draw up a detailed contract. Ask for names and numbers of previous customers, and call them.
  8. Spoofing attacks. We’ve all gotten the e-mail that purports to be from a bank or other institution and asks for personal data or asks you to download software that will compromise your computer’s security. Don’t click on links embedded in e-mails
  9. Check-overpayment schemes. If you’ve ever advertised on Craigslist, you’ve gotten this one. Someone wants to purchase your item and for some reason has to send you a check for more than you’re asking. He wants you to send him a refund for the rest. Of course, the scammer’s check bounces.
  10. Prizes with a catch. You’ve won a prize, but you have to send money to claim it or provide personal details. The scammer gets your money, and all you get is fleeced.

If you think something might be a scam, you can always check with the local Better Business Bureau. The former Urban Legends database at is also an excellent resource for checking on e-mail scams. You can also do an online search for phone numbers, e-mail addresses, types of opportunity, names of company, etc., and often discover that others have posted warnings about a scam.


One thing about scams hasn’t changed: If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.


Related reading:

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