The Top 10 Scams of 2013

CHICAGO — Topping the list of scam activity for 2013 is advance fee brokers, accounting for more than 45-percent of scam inquiries to the Better Business Bureau serving Chicago and Northern Illinois (BBB).

Advance fee brokers are usually empty promises for a personal or business loan requiring payment of a fee in advance. This scam attracts vulnerable consumers who need cash urgently.

Coming in a close second is work-at-home scams. This scam lures consumers by using get-rich-quick approaches.

The BBB's Top 10 Scams are ranked based on number of specific inquiries made by consumers to provide insight on the deceptive and sometimes illegal business practices in 2013.

"In 2013, consumers were tight for cash and were trying to improve their financial situations," said Steve J. Bernas, president/CEO of the BBB. "Scammers took advantage of these vulnerable consumers."

Bernas explained, "It is important to be aware that these scams exist. That way people can avoid losing money or personal financial information."

The complete list of Top 10 Scams in 2013 from the BBB includes:

• Advance Fee Brokers. Often these appear to be very professional operations with attractive websites and advertisements. However, it is illegal for a business to charge a fee prior to providing a loan. Typically, after wiring money to the scammer, the victim never receives the loan. These "lenders" will use fake physical addresses or the addresses of real companies.

Work-At-Home Schemes. Legitimate telecommuting jobs do exist; however, many work-from-home opportunities are scams. Promising convenient work always attracts attention; however, when the requirement is to send money for materials first, consumers should always be on guard. Do not purchase services or products from a firm that's reluctant to answer your questions, and be cautious of any company that offers an exceptionally high salary requiring few skills and little work. Check offers out thoroughly for free with the BBB at www.bbb.org.

Credit Repair Services with Advance Fees. Consumers with bad credit ratings are particularly vulnerable to this scam. Everything a credit-repair operation offers an individual can do personally at little or no cost. Credit repair operations cannot ask for money in advance, and they cannot automatically remove legitimate negative reports from your credit history.

Foreign Lotteries. Any lottery from a foreign country is illegal in the United States. Stating a person can win or is a winner already provides a strong incentive; however, people should never send money to obtain lottery money. Scammers using fictitious addresses will request you send "fees and taxes" to them through a wire service, take the cash and never provide any winnings because there are no winners.

Office Supplies - Sale by Deceptive Telemarketing. This scam features fake invoices for office supplies being sent to a business, often for only a couple hundred dollars. This relatively low amount makes it easier for company personnel to quickly sign off and feel it is not worth their time to check the invoice's validity, which would be done if it was for a larger amount.

Prize Promotions. There are several variations of this scam, but most include some aspect that requires people who are identified as "winners" to provide money or some type of personal information, such as a credit card or Social Security number, to verify being a winner. In the end, no prize is awarded, and the personal information is then used to withdraw a victim's money from accounts or for identity theft.

Paving, Painting and Home Improvement by "Traveling" Workers. Never pay upfront to a "traveling" contractor who just happens to be in the neighborhood, is doing work nearby, or has extra materials. The technique to get your money often requires you to pay for added materials. Once you pay the contractor, he disappears with the money, and no work is ever done. Having access to your property also provide an opportunity for these people to check what valuables you may have for a future burglary or ID theft.

Pyramid Companies. Pyramid schemes within companies are fraudulent because returns to investors are paid from personal money or the money paid by the newest investors, rather than from any actual profit earned by an individual or organization running the operation. These scams collapse because payouts exceed investments, or because the legal authorities prosecute the organizers for sale of unregistered securities. Often the organizers simply disappear with funds sent to them.

Sweepstakes. If you don't remember entering a sweepstakes, be very suspicious about being declared a winner. If the prize provider wants you to send money or give your Social Security number to receive your prize, take no action. If you send money you will likely never receive a prize or you will get a prize of lesser value than the money you've sent.

Debt Relief Services (Non-Compliant with FTC rule). The Federal Trade Commission has established rules for debt relief services (for profit businesses that represent that they renegotiate, settle or alter the terms of payment for an unsecured debt). The FTC rule governs disclosures and representations that debt relief services can make and does not allow advance fees. There are legitimate debt relief companies that comply with the FTC rule, and the Better Business Bureau is identifying only the non-compliant companies as scams.

"Before giving any company your personal or financial information, review the business on the BBB website," said Bernas. "And remember, if an offer seems too good to be true, it probably is."

For more information on these Top 10 scams, visit www.bbb.org.