Scam artists want you to act quickly but take time to do some research if a deal sounds a bit odd or too good to be true. Some new online tools can help.
The Better Business Bureau launched a BBB Scam Tracker in late 2015 to provide consumers in the United States and Canada a place to spot and report scams. It's another way to do a little extra research if you suspect fraudsters are working another angle.
The interactive tool is found at BBB.org/scamtracker. It includes a map to show where scams are being reported. It's possible to file a complaint or an alert even if you did not lose any money or fall for a scam. Law enforcement officials are able to use such trackers to identify potential scams in a given city or town.
Some recent reports included:
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--A fake Internet ad that promised a way to make money by advertising the Pepsi logo on cars.
After clicking on the ad, a Detroit consumer reported entering contact information and hearing from a "Julie Patrick," who sent a check for $1,950.
But the potential victim was told to keep $400 of the check and send $1,550 back to Julie so that she could use that money to pay for the decal installation. It was the old fake check fraud, where a large counterfeit check is sent so the person can deposit it and later send wire some money back for installation costs, taxes or something else. The check bounces and the person loses his money to scam artists. But in this case, the Detroiter didn't send money because the bank alerted the customer that the check was likely bad and would bounce.
--A mobile phone scam is popping up where someone receives a text message promising that $500 soon can be deposited to your account.
But you're asked to give personal information involving your bank account so the scammers can get their hands on your money. To get that $500 in this deal, you must give out your username ID, password and the security question that applies to your bank account. The alert used the name of First Federal Bank of Ohio, which is real but the quick $500 is not legitimate.
The federal Office of the Comptroller of the Currency also has issued an alert noting that scam artists are using counterfeit checks with the name First Federal Bank of Ohio in connection with online employment scams. In this case, regulators warn that correspondence accompanying the check might include the name "Premier Research Group."
--A Detroit consumer complained he lost $412 to an outfit that promised to boost an existing credit score from whatever it is now to above 600 in just 60 days. The person paid the money, called for updates and saw no changes in the credit score.
--A consumer in Mira Loma, Calif., reported losing $2,400 this year to an outfit called Hope4Homes that supposedly helped people stay in their homes. The borrower put three months worth of mortgage payments in reserve and was advised not to pay the mortgage for three months. But the company never spoke to his mortgage company. And the consumer noted that others have had their homes foreclosed on with this scam.
--A consumer in Louisville, Ky, reported receiving a phone call in December from someone claiming to be "Lisa Corley" who said the couple had won second place in a Publishers Clearing House contest that was entered online. The prize was $500,000. Lisa Corley did not ask for personal information but wanted to know when the couple would be home -- the specific time on a specific day and if anyone would be home with the consumer. The consumer did not fall for the scam.
Susan Tompor is the personal finance columnist for the Detroit Free Press. She can be reached at stomporfreepress.com.