HOUSTON (KTRK) -- The Houston Better Business Bureau has tallied up the statistics from 2014 and created a Top 10 Scams list. Here's a heads-up to what scams consumers can expect to see again in 2015.
The BBB's Top 10 Scams of 2014
A caller claims to be from Microsoft or a representative from another computer software company. The caller offers to solve a computer problem or sell a software license in an effort to gain remote control of the consumer's computer, and later requests a fee for service. Always check out a company first and only hire trusted repair businesses. Microsoft does not make unsolicited phone calls for computer help.
People report receiving calls from "IRS representatives" who claim they owe taxes and must pay or a warrant will be issued for their arrest. Or, they claim the IRS is pursuing a lawsuit against you and you must make a payment immediately. The IRS never uses phone calls for collection purposes. Instead, they only contact taxpayers via U.S. mail.
Consumers report unsolicited phone calls notifying there is a grant for them, but they have to pay a fee in order to collect it. Grants do not have to be repaid; thus there is no need to use the word "free." Organizations do not usually give out grants for personal debt consolidation, or to pay for other personal needs. Grants are usually given only to serve a social good, such as bringing jobs to an area, training under-employed youth, preserving a bit of history, etc. Be wary if you are asked to provide money upfront to an unknown company before the company will provide the services promised.
Phony invoice scams
This scam affects businesses and consumers. They receive what looks like a legitimate invoice in the mail or via email for a renewal for a newspaper or a magazine. It turns out to be a solicitation. Most newspapers invoice their customers directly and do not use third party billing.
Caller ID spoofing scams
New technology allows scammers to now change the name of the caller ID on the phones, which in most cases allows them to pose as a business or local law enforcement agency. In one scenario, scammers called and told the person on the other line there is a warrant out for their arrest, but they can pay a fine to avoid criminal charges.
Home improvement scams
Whether it is shoddy work from untrained or unlicensed company, or so called "invisible" repairs that are hard for consumers to detect on their own, the home improvement scam is always around. This includes repairs to roofs, chimneys, air ducts, crawl spaces, etc. Scammers may knock at your door offering a great deal because they were in the neighborhood, but many are turning to telemarketing, social media, and email to reach consumers. BBB reminds consumers to check out home contractors at bbb.org before saying yes.
Target, Home Depot, Michaels, PF Changs - these are just a few of the companies affected by data breaches in the past year. Do not click on unsolicited emails or social media messages. Call your bank to see if your account was affected if you haven't heard from them. Always monitor your credit statements carefully.
With the popularity of the viral "Ice Bucket Challenge" and the deaths of celebrities, scammers are always trying to take advantage of people's generosity. Never click on links in unsolicited charity emails or on social media, and always check out a charity at give.org.
Identity theft scams
Every two seconds, someone becomes a victim of identity fraud. Every year, millions of Americans have their identities stolen. According to Javelin Research, that number was 13.1 million in 2013. Proper document shredding and protecting personal information online are two excellent ways to help prevent identity theft.
Advance fee loan scams
This generally takes place online. Consumers receive emails from "loan companies" saying they are "pre-approved with no credit check" for a loan. People are then charged hundreds of dollars to release the first payment, usually through a wire transfore or a GreenDot money card. Reputable loan companies always do credit checks on potential customers. They do not solicit over email, nor do they charge people hundreds of dollars up front for a loan.
Better Business Bureau's top 10 scams of 2014