2012 was a very busy year for scammers. The bad guys thought up devious ways to exploit consumers via social media and cell phones, then reached new lows by using national tragedies like Hurricane Sandy and the recent school shooting in Connecticut to prey on innocent people.
Suffice it to say, we’ve had our hands full over the past twelve months at Scambook. Let’s review the top complaint trends covered by the Scambook Blog in 2012.
1. Smishing: Fake $1000 Gift Cards from TargetContests.com and BestBuyWin.net
2012 was the year of smishing. In case you’ve forgotten, smishing is scam shorthand for SMS phishing. Spammers select thousands of cell phone numbers, usually via randomizing computer software, then blast a text message promoting the bogus $1000 gift card prize. They use stores where most people shop, like Target and Walmart, then create websites that mimic the real company’s brand.
If you visit one of the Gift Redemption Program websites mentioned in these texts, you risk identity theft, computer viruses and other consumer threats. Remember, real companies like Target, Walmart and Best Buy are not affiliated with these schemes and the $1000 gift card prize isn’t real. If you get a smishing text, we advise you to delete it right away.
2. Unauthorized Credit Card Charges: Premier Memberships Club
In 2012, Scambook received thousands of complaints about organizations like the Premier Membership Clubs, which charged consumers a mysterious monthly subscription fee. Scambook users report being hit with these charges after pursuing payday loans online, but they weren’t aware they were signing up for PMC.
This exemplifies a shady business practice where consumers automatically “opt-in” for a paid service when they agree to a free trial. It’s why you should always read the fine print.
3. Social Media Hacking: Diet Products like Raspberry Ultra and HCG Ultra
This year, we discovered a trend where hackers hijack your Facebook profile or email account to promote diet products. We received complaints associated with two specific products, HCG Ultra Drops and Raspberry Ultra Drops. Each of these products (and the alleged hacking) followed the same pattern. Users would see a Facebook post, or receive an email, directing them to a website mimicking FoxNews.com. The Fox News page is an advertisement for the diet supplement, disguised as a real Health News report.
Scambook users say they received links about Ultra Drops, clicked them, and found that their own accounts were hacked afterwards. Others reported that they ordered a free trial of the product, were billed immediately, and couldn’t return the product or cancel their order subscriptions.
4. Counterfeit Tech: The Fake Apple iPhone 5
Apple launched the latest generation of iPhone in 2012. As always, the counterfeiters were waiting to jump aboard and start peddling fake iPhone 5s to unsuspecting consumers. We reported on the threat of accidentally buying a fake iPhone 5 from a third-party on sites like Craigslist list and eBay, but we also got our hands on a Chinese Android phone designed to imitate the iPhone 5.
Watch our video reviews of the Hero H2000+ iPhone 5 knockoff and read about the warning signs of a fake iPhone 5.
5. Fake Charity Fraud: Scammers Exploit National Tragedies
Earlier this year, Hurricane Sandy ravaged the east coast and caused an estimated $62 billion in damages. Last week, in Newtown, Connecticut, a school shooting claimed the lives of 20 children and 6 people at Sandy Hook Elementary. There is no bright side to these devastating incidents, yet national tragedies often bring out our charitable side. Millions are eager to provide whatever aid they can, including donations to charities.
Unfortunately, crises also bring out the lowest of the low. Scammers always prey on our emotional vulnerability and our desire to help in the wake of such tragedies. They assemble fake charities to steal your donations and prevent them from going to the real victims, or they exploit the victims even further via insurance fraud. If you want to help, visit CharityNavigator.org before you donate to any organization.
Tell Us About Your Year!
So that was 2012 here at Scambook. How was your year? Share your stories and remember to submit any complaints you may have.