HOUSTON -- In 2017, the Better Business Bureau of Greater Houston and South received 1,211 scam reports submitted by consumers via our Scam Tracker reporting service, where scams are logged and detailed for the public. As we progress through this year, it is important to be aware of the current scams targeting consumers to avoid becoming a victim. According, we are releasing a local list of the top scams impacting people throughout our area during 2017. As many of these scams will continue throughout 2018, the BBB also offers tips to avoid these scams or similar ones in the future.
BBB of Greater Houston and South Texas’ Top Scams from 2017
- Phishing scams- Typically, this scam is initiated by a call from an unfamiliar phone number or an unsolicited email trying to obtain personal or financial information. In 2017, BBB Houston often received multiple reports of the "Can Your Hear Me?" phone scam, where the caller is encouraged to answer “yes” to the question “Can you hear me?” If you answer yes, there is a possibility the scammer recorded you and will use your “agreement” to sign you up for a product or service and then demand payment.
- Online Purchase scams- This scam occurs when consumers pay for an item they never receive. While most online shopping sites are legitimate, scammers also set up fraudulent sites in order to steal personal or financial information. In 2017, BBB Houston received an influx of reports on online puppy scams, where consumers paid money to purchase these pets online but never receive their puppies.
- Employment scams- Scammers may say they have a job opening or guarantee job placement if you first pay a fee to cover the cost it takes to place you in a job; however, after you pay, the job never materializes.
- Tax Collection scams- Someone calls claiming to be with the IRS or Treasury Department and says you owe money to the government, and if you don’t pay now, you will be arrested. Scammers threaten you to send money via a prepaid debit card or wire transfer, and some people pay out of fear.
- Tech Support scams- You get a call or a pop-up ad on your computer claiming to be from Microsoft (or Norton, or Apple) about a problem on your computer. They say if you give “tech support” access to your hard drive, they can fix it. Instead, they install malware on your computer and start stealing your personal information.
- Fake Check/Money Order scams- You receive a check in the mail that is larger than the amount owed and are asked to deposit the check and wire the difference; however, the check ends up being a fake, and when it bounces, you are out of the money.
- Government Grant scams- This scam comes in the form of a phone call, email or letter claiming you qualify for a government grant. In order to receive the grant, you must first send a processing or delivery fee, usually via wire transfer or a prepaid debit card.
- Debt Collection scams- You receive a phone call from someone claiming you have an unpaid debt. You are threatened with garnishments, lawsuits and even prison if you don’t pay immediately. The scammer will often use Caller ID spoofing and pretend to be a government agency or law enforcement in order to invoke fear.
- Advance Fee Loan scams- An advance fee loan may seem like an easy way to get cash fast; however, outright scammers charge an upfront fee and will “guarantee” you a loan despite your credit history, and chances are, you won’t get your money back.
- Sweepstakes/Lottery/Prize scams- You receive a phone call or email claiming you won a prize in a sweepstakes, perhaps one that you never entered. In order to receive the prize, you are instructed to send a fee to cover expenses associated with processing, insurance or delivery. Scammers will sometimes call and impersonate well-known and legitimate sweepstakes providers like Publishers Clearing House, which has stated they do not request payment for prizes and also do not call or email prize winners.
Helpful tips to avoid scams can be found at bbb.org/avoidscams, and scams may be reported and searched through BBB’s Scam Tracker at BBBHouston.org/scamtracker. Check with BBBHouston.org or call our phone line at 713-868-9500 for more information, and be sure to research any business before making a purchase or charity before donating.