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Scammers pose as legitimate businesses

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Con artists trick victims into sending them money by using some of these notorious scams.

By Staff Reports

Thieves continue to use the Internet, mail and phone service to steal millions from unsuspecting victims across the Western Virginia region and the nation.
The Better Business Bureau Serving Western Virginia urges consumers to recognize the most common tactics used by crooks to scam money.
Most thieves masquerade as legitimate businesses and ask consumers to send money via such hard-to-trace methods as Western Union, MoneyGram or Green Dot MoneyPaks.
Other times, a consumer may be asked to mail money directly to a scammer in another country or to an associate within the U.S.
“The message should be loud and clear: Never, ever send money to somebody you don’t know regardless of the reason they give you,” said Julie Wheeler of the BBB.
“And never give your bank account information or a Green Dot MoneyPak access number to anyone unless you are absolutely sure you know exactly who you are dealing with and it’s for a legitimate transaction.”
Many of the most notorious scams have operated for years. Among the most common:

Advance Fee Loan Scam
Typically, this scheme targets a consumer with poor credit who either applies online for a loan or receives a phone call offering a loan.
The scam company may have a professional-looking website and a contract that looks legitimate. It may even use the name or address of a real company. But after the consumer sends an advance fee (usually for “insurance” or a “processing” fee), no loan is forthcoming.
The scam company soon vanishes and is restarted under a new name. A number of consumers recently lost between $400 and $900 each to advance fee loan thieves claiming to have offices in the Danville area. BBB tracked the company to Canada.

Sweepstakes Scam
The thief mails an official-looking but phony announcement that the recipient won a lottery or sweepstakes. The letter says the money or prizes will be delivered as soon as the winner pays taxes or fees, often through Western Union, MoneyGram or a Green Dot MoneyPak.
Typical is a recent mailing to a Roanoke resident informing him that he had just won $450,000 in the “USA Mega” sweepstakes. The notice included what appeared to be a legitimate check for $4,850 that the letter said would help him pay taxes on the winnings.
The scammer is counting on the recipient to deposit the fake check into his or her bank account and then send out the $4850 in real money. Too often, these “winners” discover too late they have been duped and there is no sweepstakes.
Scammers often use the phone for the same scam. A Roanoke County resident received a phone call from the “Gaming & Lottery Commission” this month, stating she had won $850,000. All she had to do was buy a $299 MoneyPak from Walgreens to “certify her identification.”
Had she purchased the MoneyPak and given the caller the ID number on the card, the money would have been gone.

Secret Shopping or Work at Home Scam
A business that appears legitimate offers a job seeker a chance to earn money as a secret shopper, shopping various stores and services and reporting the findings back to the company.
In most cases, the company mails a legitimate-looking check, instructing the recipient to keep a portion of the money and use the rest to “shop” businesses such as Walgreen’s or Wal-Mart.
Almost always, instructions also call for the recipient to use most of the cash to “shop” MoneyGram or Western Union by sending a large portion of the check through one of those businesses to an out-of-town recipient.
The secret shopper scam has been particularly prevalent within the region for several months, and victimized a man for $2,900. He had to take out a loan to pay back his bank.

Grandparent Scam
A grandparent receives a frantic phone call. A scammer, posing as their grandchild, explains that he or she has gotten into trouble, often in Canada, Mexico or another far off place, and needs their help. The “grandchild” might claim he or she caused a car accident or was arrested for drug possession and needs money sent right away. Victims are also contacted by someone claiming to be a police officer or lawyer representing the grandchild in court.
The caller pleads to the grandparents not tell the parents and asks that they wire thousands of dollars for reasons including posting bail, repairing a car, covering lawyer’s fees or even paying hospital bills for a person the grandchild “injured “in a car accident.
The caller may not identify themselves but will call you grandma or grandpa, hoping you will reply with “Billy, is that you, what’s wrong?” The reply could provide the scammer with the name of the grandchild.
One easy way to confirm their identity is to ask a simple question that your grandchild would know, such as what is their middle name.

Craigslist Scam
A scammer responds to a consumer’s offer on Craigslist to sell an item or service and typically sends payment in the form of a phony check, claiming that a family member or associate accidentally has overpaid and then requests a partial refund by MoneyGram or Western Union. It is only after sending the refund that the consumer realizes the scam.

Romance Scam
Avoid sending money in any form to someone you have spoken with only online. If an e-mail “friend” asks you for money, it is probably a scam.

For more information, contact the Better Business Bureau at (540) 342-3455 or see www.bbb.org.