Better Business Bureau lists top scams of 2011

Published: Wednesday, Jan. 4 2012 12:00 a.m. MST

Of the numerous methods of stealing someone’s identity, one of the most prevalent is one that many hotels are posting warnings about in their lobbies. A guest gets a call in their hotel room in the middle of the night from someone claiming to be the front desk clerk, saying the hotel's computer has crashed and he needs to get your credit card number again, or they must have gotten the number wrong because the transaction won’t go through. Scammers are counting on the potential victim being too sleepy to realize the call is not from the hotel.

One of the top financial scams targeted homeowners. Because the federal government announced or expanded several mortgage relief programs this year, countless look-alike websites popped up last year attempting to trick consumers into parting with their money. Most ask for an upfront fee to help deal with the mortgage company or the government agency, and almost all leave the homeowner in more debt than when they started.

The Internet has also introduced penny auctions as a new way to rip people off. They have become popular because it seems like consumers can get something useful — cameras, computers, etc. — for far below retail price. But the scam charges a small fee for each bid — usually between 50 cents and one dollar — and if you are not the winner, you also lose the bid money.

The BBB reported that although not all penny auction sites are scams, some are being investigated as online gambling and the BBB recommends treating them like gambling in a casino — know exactly how the bidding works, set a limit for yourself, and be prepared to walk away before you go over that limit.

The "scam of the year," according to the BBB, was a phishing scam. Victims receive emails that look like an official notice from the BBB with the subject line “Complaint Against Your Business,” and the instructions tell the recipient to either click on a link or open an attachment to get the details. If the recipient does either, a malicious virus is launched on their computer.

The BBB is working with security consultants and federal law enforcement to track down the source of the emails, and has already shut down dozens of hijacked websites. Anyone who has opened an attachment or clicked on a link should run a complete system scan using reputable anti-virus software. If your computer is networked with others, all machines on the network should be scanned, as well.

For more information on these and other scams, go to BBB Scam Source (www.bbb.org/scam). Sign up for Scam Alerts and learn about new scams as soon as the BBB does. In Utah, visit www.utah.bbb.org or call 801-892-6009 or toll-free at 800-456-3907.

E-mail: jlee@desnews.com, Twitter: JasenLee1

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