Top 10 scams of 2012

The Better Business Bureau has released its annual list of the worst schemes that aimed to steal people's money or identity, including the 'Scam of the Year.'

By MSN Money Partner Jan 17, 2013 3:52PM

This post comes from Cameron Huddleston at partner site Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine.


Kiplinger logoEach year the Better Business Bureau investigates thousands of scams, from new schemes that take advantage of current events to old ploys used time and again to bilk the unsuspecting.


Image: Money into toilet (© RubberBall/SuperStock/SuperStock)The BBB uses its data, along with reports from federal agencies and other sources, to compile an annual list of the top scams -- not necessarily the biggest as far as the number of people affected or amount of money stolen, but rather the most egregious, says Carrie Hurt, the president and CEO of the Council of Better Business Bureaus.


Here's the BBB's list of the top scams from the past year in nine categories, plus the "Scam of the Year":


Top fake check scam: Car ads

The Internet Crime Complaint Center, a partnership of the FBI and the National White Collar Crime Center, received many complaints in 2012 about online ads promising to pay people $400 or more a week for driving around with company logos on their car. People would be sent a check and asked to deposit it in their account then wire part of the payment to a graphic designer who would customize the ad for their vehicle.


There was no graphic designer or ad, though, and the check would bounce -- usually after people had wired money to the scammers.


Top emergency scam: Grandparent scam

This scam has been around a long time. It involves a grandchild or other relative who is traveling abroad and asks for money to be wired to him right away because he was mugged or hurt -- and says, "Please don't tell Mom and Dad." According to the BBB, the FBI reports that it's easier for scammers to tell a more plausible story because they can use information the supposed "victim" posts on Facebook or Twitter.


The BBB says that you should never wire money without trying to contact the supposed victim at his or her regular phone number or checking with family members to see if that person really is traveling.


Top employment scam: Mystery shopping

Legitimate companies do use mystery shoppers to provide feedback on customer service, merchandise quality and other quality-control metrics. However, there are plenty of illegitimate offers for this sort of work. Scammers often tell prospective mystery shoppers that evaluating a wire service company is part of the job and that they need to deposit a check and send back part of the money (of course, the victim finds out that the check has bounced after the money's been wired).


According to the BBB, the Mystery Shopping Providers Association says its members don't prepay shoppers. To find a legitimate gig, visit the MSPA website


Top advance fee/prepayment scam: Nonexistent loans

Loan scams tend to be advertised online promising such things as no credit check or easy repayment. However, you have to make the first payment upfront, buy an "insurance policy" or pay some other fee to secure the loan. In 2012, a new twist  was added to this loan scam: Consumers were threatened with lawsuits and law enforcement action if they didn't pay back loans they said they had never even taken out in the first place.


According to the BBB, some victims were called at their workplace, or their relatives were called. The embarrassment of being thought of as a delinquent caused some victims to pay even when they knew they didn't owe the money, the BBB says.


Top phishing scam: President Obama will pay your utility bills

Thousands of people became victims of scammers who called, sent text messages, showed up at homes or used social media to tout a federal assistance program that would pay up to $1,000 on utility or credit card bills -- but there was no such program. Consumers were asked to give their Social Security numbers and other personal information to access what actually was a phony bank account and routing number to use when paying their bills online.


To avoid such scams, never give out personal information unless you initiated the contact.


Top sweepstakes scam: Jamaican phone lottery

In this old scam that resurfaced last year, the calls come from Jamaica (area code 876) but the person claims to represent the BBB, FBI or other trusted group and tells the victim that he's won a large cash prize or government grant. The catch: You have to pay a fee to collect your winnings. If you get a call like this, hang up and report it to the BBB.

Top identity theft scam: Fake Facebook videos

Scammers used Twitter to send people direct messages claiming that there was an embarrassing video of them on Facebook, with a link. When people clicked on the link, they got an error message that said they needed to download a new version of Flash or other video player. The file was actually a virus or malware that could steal personal information from the computers or smartphones of people who downloaded it. Twitter recommends reporting such violations, changing your password and revoking connections to third-party applications that you don't recognize.


Top home improvement scam: Sandy storm repair

Scam artists took advantage of the damage caused by Superstorm Sandy by promising homeowners that they'd make repairs. The scammers asked to be paid in advance and never did the work. The BBB recommends always asking for references, checking credentials and using to find trusted contractors.


Top sales scam: Fake Olympics goods

Scammers took advantage of the London Olympics to set up websites offering merchandise that didn't exist. People who tried to purchase items simply lost their money. Counterfeit sports memorabilia was common year-round. The BBB recommends buying directly from team stores and sites or from legitimate retailers. You'll pay a little more, but it will be the real deal.


Scam of the Year: Newtown charities

Social media pages dedicated to the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary shooting appeared within hours of the tragedy in Newtown, Conn. Some were created by scammers asking for money. According to the BBB, the FBI has already arrested one woman accused of posing as the aunt of one of the children killed, and state and federal agencies are investigating other possible fraudulent and misleading solicitations.


"Although the number of people defrauded and the total dollars stolen is most likely low, the cynicism and sheer audacity of these scams merits our selecting it as the Top Scam of 2012," the BBB says.


More from Kiplinger's Personal Finance magazine and MSN Money:



Jan 17, 2013 4:15PM
Thank God, that there are still honest people around.  Like that nice Nigerian Prince that is going to share his 16 million dollar fortune with me... the minute my good-faith check to him clears!     
Jan 17, 2013 5:31PM

How about Powerball? A $10M jackpot means the govt has collected $20M (They keep 50% up front)

If you win and take the net present value cash award, the government again keeps about 50% of the total $10M and then you will pay 40% income taxes on what you actually take home so they get you again. 


So, on a $10M jackpot, the govt gets $10M up front, $5M for net present value, and 40% income taxes of that $5M for a total of $17M compared to your $3M. If that's not a scam, I don't know the definition of one.


Jan 17, 2013 5:45PM

How about that nice Kenyan 'King" who wants to take away your guns , so you'll all be safer.

Kinda gives ya the warm fuzzies doesn't it

Jan 17, 2013 8:02PM
Lets not forget the biggest scammers. Our so called public servants( the government) who are there to do what's best  for us.
Jan 17, 2013 4:56PM

Seems like there's always a crook just around the corner.....honesty is still the best policy.

Jan 17, 2013 4:41PM
Cameron ol' buddy you forgot one. The OBAMA ADMINISTRATION (past and future)!!! "nuf said!
Jan 17, 2013 7:14PM

Funny considering the BBB is the biggest scam of all time. That is just another independent company who has been scamming us for decades in plain sight.

They take nominal money from business' to provide them with an A rating and a window decal. When someone has an issue with a business it always goes unresolved. They later reply with " the business shpwed satisfactory intent to satisfy the issue"  This is after the business admits to their own scams and never resolves the issue. The intent of the BBB is only to collect their annual dues. There is no service for the consumer as they claim. Report anything you want to them, it's a waste of time. That's organized enough to get MSN to fall for them. They obviously have no clue.

Jan 17, 2013 7:40PM

That Grandparent scam is so sad.


It happened to someone i know.

The person used the guys nick name that his grandmother called him, knew he had some problems in the past knew his kids and wives names and everything...


It was really terrible and wrong.

Jan 17, 2013 7:12PM

Oh you forgot!


The number 1 scam: Manti Te'o and his "girlfriend"

Jan 18, 2013 10:43AM

If I get a call on my cell phone and it's only a number showing, no name, I don't answer, I don't care if it's Donald Trump calling to offer me a job. 


I got a call on a land line a number of years back, the guy said he was in California and wanted me to invest in oil exploration.  I said I wasn't interested.  He got mad and asked: "You mean you don't even have $10,000 to invest?"  I said I did, but it was in bonds held as collateral on a loan that I had, I still owed $2,500.  I said if he sent me the $2,500, I could pay off the loan, get my bonds back, and then send him his $2,500 plus my $10,000 for the invesment.  He said some nasty things and then hung up.  You know, some people just have no sense of humor.  

Jan 17, 2013 11:23PM
Biggest scam of all in the United States are every single Illegal Immigrant roaming around this country without being detained and deported like they all need to be. 
Jan 17, 2013 8:53PM

The internet is a double-edged sword.  On one hand, it is a conduit for a lot of useful services and information.  On the other hand, it is also a path to you via your computer for a multitude of viruses that are scams.  MAKE SURE you have a good virus-protection program, a malware-protection program, and a cookie-cleaning program on your computer, and run them regularly, especially if you surf the internet a lot.  No security program can provide 100% protection, but they can reduce the chance that your computer will be infected.  If your computer becomes infected, look for signs of scammers, specifically, sloppily composed web pages that can include obvious over-the-top statements about dire consequences if you don't take certain actions, mainly sending money, or lots of misspelled words, etc.  Hackers and virus creators often are smart enough to create the virus, but not smart enough to have their stuff proofread by someone who can actually spell and compose a decent sentence.  And whatever you do, don't send money to anyone.

Jan 17, 2013 9:52PM
I don't blame the scammers.  The FAULT is with the IDIOTS WHO FALL FOR THIS B.S.  If it weren't for the GREEDY, NO-BRAIN MORONS who willingly hand over their money, SCAMS WOULD DISAPPEAR.  BEST SCAM??  The ignorant SLVT on TEEN MOM.  Don't know her name and don't care.  She got ALL EXCITED because her car had sold for MORE MONEY than she was asking !!  All she had to do was WIRE BACK THOUSANDS OF DOLLARS to the "SHIPPING COMPANY" that was going to help send her car half way around the world.  NOTHING unusual about that huh?

She deposits the check except for the FEW THOUSAND dollars that she immediately wired to somebody in Nigeria.  Then of course, being the GULLIBLE DIMWIT she is, she goes and pays over $100 to have the car detailed for the generous honest gentleman who "bought" it

A day or two later, she decides to see IF THE CHECK CLEARED YET and lo and behold, HER ACCOUNT IS OVERDRAWN BY THOUSANDS !!  The check was fake!!!

EVEN FUNNIER is that she blamed the bank and then Western Union !!  She called to see if she could get back the THOUSANDS she wired to Uncle Habeeb and guess what?  It was picked up within MINUTES of the transfer.  She gets all mad at the WU customer service rep and hangs up angrily!  OOOOO!!


Jan 17, 2013 7:43PM
The funny part is that people actually fall for these scams.  
Jan 17, 2013 9:09PM
Scam of century... Barry Soetoro,  aka Barack Obama.
Jan 19, 2013 10:05AM
Dear God, Please let me know what is true and more power with the network.
Please guide me.
Jan 18, 2013 10:47AM
The biggest scam of 2012, Forward!!
Jan 17, 2013 9:25PM
Being strong armed by the Better Business Bureau to PAY THEM or else
Jan 18, 2013 1:28PM
Missed two... being stupid enough to have contributed to the GOP and being a member of the NRA. Some got fooled twice!
Please help us to maintain a healthy and vibrant community by reporting any illegal or inappropriate behavior. If you believe a message violates theCode of Conductplease use this form to notify the moderators. They will investigate your report and take appropriate action. If necessary, they report all illegal activity to the proper authorities.
100 character limit
Are you sure you want to delete this comment?


Copyright © 2014 Microsoft. All rights reserved.

Fundamental company data and historical chart data provided by Morningstar Inc. Real-time index quotes and delayed quotes supplied by Morningstar Inc. Quotes delayed by up to 15 minutes, except where indicated otherwise. Fund summary, fund performance and dividend data provided by Morningstar Inc. Analyst recommendations provided by Zacks Investment Research. StockScouter data provided by Verus Analytics. IPO data provided by Hoover's Inc. Index membership data provided by Morningstar Inc.