What You Need to Know About 2014’s Top Scams

Scammer at work

When fraudsters cook up a new scam, they typically use the same recipe: Start by establishing a connection with the target, be it through sweet talk or intimidation; mix in feigned credibility or authority; then turn on the heat to trigger emotions for an “Act Now!” response. For icing on the fake, add a dash of modern technology.

Alone or collectively, these ingredients proved successful in the past year. Consider the ranking order of the Top Scams of 2014, which the Better Business Bureau revealed after compiling consumer reports and surveying its 113 local chapters.

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1. The Arrest Scam. Threats of impending arrest by self-described IRS agents or police officers for supposedly owed back taxes, unpaid debts or missed jury duty struck fear in millions of people — and robbed them of millions of dollars.

Know this: Scammers use software to spoof the names and phone numbers of legitimate agencies, so don’t be fooled. Real cops and government employees don’t call or email to demand payment or give you a heads-up about an impending arrest.

 2. The Tech-Support Scam. Those worrying warnings of a computer virus in calls from self-described Microsoft or antivirus software representatives? Their aim is to get you to give them remote access to your computer accounts and files — and then charge you up to $600 for a bogus “repair.”

Know this: Legitimate tech companies don’t call individual customers about problems. When new threats are detected, expect on-screen notification of updates to protection software.

3. “Are You Calling Yourself?” Thank technology for this newbie, allowing tech-savvy scammers to display your own phone number on your Caller ID. Your curiosity to answer results in a high-pressure pitch.

Know this: You aren’t calling yourself.

4. Copycat Websites . Bargain-price alerts in unsolicited emails, text messages or social media posts often mean a malware-laden link. Other deals lead to rogue websites that aim to collect credit card information by promising brand-name discounts. What you get are cheap counterfeit goods, nothing at all or a spending spree for con artists.

Know this: Before clicking, hover your computer mouse over the link; if it doesn’t display a recognized retailer, assume the worst. Scammers can redesign spot-on look-alikes, so it’s best to carefully type website addresses yourself, rather than rely on provided links.

5. Medical-Alert Scam. The devices are handy but certainly not free. Also, note that no names are mentioned in robocalls claiming that a concerned family member or doctor ordered a medical-alert device specifically for you.

Know this: The scam is twofold: To bait you, swindlers tell you to claim your device by pressing 1, which alerts them that your phone number is ripe for future schemes and allows them to collect credit card information for supposed shipping or monitoring fees. The freebie, however, won’t be delivered.

Rounding out the top 10 — and knowing why to say no:

* The Grandparent Scam. With an Internet search, con artists collect names, family details and your contact information to convincingly pose as in-need young ’uns. Note the different voice and bizarre circumstance: jail, injury or crime victim.

* Government-Grant Scams . Uncle Sam doesn’t charge people to apply for or receive “free” money. And those offers are usually for student aid, research, or select and particular industries. You don’t get paid for being a good citizen.

* Robocalls. Be skeptical of these calls that claim you can lower your credit card interest rates. The scammers charge you for what you can do for free (ask your card issuers); plus they get sensitive details that they could use for identity theft.

* Click-Bait Scams . Promises of juicy photos, video or news tempt you to click on malware-laden links. Stick to reputable websites and legitimate media by typing their Web address yourself.

* Sweepstakes Scams. You can’t win if you didn’t enter. You never have to pay to collect a legit prize. And with sweepstakes-scam season in bloom, more on these popular ploys next week.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

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