Scammers were out in force in 2017

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Each year the Better Business Bureau serving Central East Texas has to deal with scammers trying their best to fool consumers.

This past year was no different.

Many are new twists on existing scams, but scammers become more sophisticated every year in how they misrepresent trusted brands and how they fool consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission’s Consumer Sentinel estimates Texans lost over $99 million in 2016.

For the last three years, the IRS Tax topped the list. Unfortunately, this means that many continue to fall for the scam.

Here are the most reported scams and suspicious activities of 2017 via BBB Scam Tracker:

Internal Revenue Service -- Scammers posing as IRS agents claim you owe back taxes and threaten lawsuits and arrest if payment is not sent immediately. Keep in mind, the IRS does not make threatening phone calls, nor do you send payment via unconventional methods such as gift cards or wire transfer.

Sweepstakes/Lottery/Prizes -- Winning the sweepstakes, dream vacation, large amounts of money, a new car, shopping spree or new technology sounds great especially if you didn’t enter to win. Unexpected prize and lottery scams rely on your excitement to lure you into paying fees for your prize or and typically require that you provide your personal information with the intent of compromising your identity. Remember, you should never have to pay fees for winning a prize. You will also never win a lottery you never entered.

Government Grant -- Victims receive a phone call, e-mail or letter stating they qualified for a government grant, but to receive the grant you must pay the processing and/or delivery fee via wire transfer or prepaid debit card. Never send money by wire transfer or prepaid debit card to somebody you don’t know or haven’t met in person.

Auto Warranty -- You receive a letter in the mail that your auto warranty has expired, but you have a limited amount of time to extend your warranty for a low cost. Often times you’ll receive more than one letter that extends the time for you to get that low price. Check with bbb.org before purchasing another warranty from a company.

Tech Support -- Consumers are being targeted by fraudsters pretending to be well-known tech support companies. Victims are contacted with a message on their computer that a virus has been detected and to “fix” the problem, a phone number or website is given to purchase an anti-virus computer via debit or credit card. Computer manufacturers will not contact you to let you know if there is a problem with your computer.

Phishing/ Smishing -- You receive an e-mail or text telling you that you’ve won a contest, a business or someone posing as an official at your place of employment needs to verify your personal information, such as your Social Security Number. Never click on links or open attachments from unsolicited e-mails and never provide personal information without first verifying the source.

Employment -- Scammers advertise a job opening or guarantee job placement if you pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in a job. However, after you pay, there’s no job and you are out of money. Remember, if a potential employer asks you to pay the company to cover the costs of testing, training or background checks, consider it a red flag.

Advance Fee Loan -- Advance fee lenders charge an upfront fee and will “guarantee” you a loan despite your credit history and chances are you won’t get your money back. Legitimate financial organizations will always check your credit history. A lender who isn’t interested in your credit history is an immediate red flag.

Bogus Online Retailers -- You see a highly sought-after item for a discounted price or a puppy too cute for words. You wire the money or pay via pre-paid credit card. The money is gone, you have no items, and the retailer is nowhere to be found. Always use caution when dealing with unfamiliar online retailers. Read reviews at bbb.org to make sure you are dealing with a business you can trust.

Medicaid/Medicare Scam -- You are contacted by a government authority who claims they wish to send you a free gift for updating your account information. You soon discover you never received the gift and your identity has been compromised. Never provide personally identifiable information to an unsolicited phone call or e-mail without first verifying the source.

What you can do:

Don’t be pressured into making hasty decisions.

Take time to research the organization. Check bbb.org, search online, etc.

Never provide your personal information (address, date of birth, banking information, ID numbers) to people you do not know.

Don’t click on links from unsolicited email or text messages.

If you are unsure about a call or email that claims to be from your bank, utility company, etc., call the business directly using the number on your bill or credit card.

Never send money by wire transfer, prepaid debit card or unconventional method to someone you don’t know or haven’t met in person.

Never send money for an emergency situation unless you can verify the emergency.

BBB serving Central East Texas fosters a trustworthy marketplace by maintaining standards for truthful advertising and by investigating and exposing fraud against consumers and businesses. Please go to bbb.org or call 903-581-5704 24 hours a day for information on businesses throughout North America. To report fraudulent activity or unscrupulous business practices, go to BBB Scam Tracker.

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