VANCOUVER: This year, learn how you can become a smarter consumer. While schemes and scams take on various forms, they all share common traits. The best defense is knowledge; knowing the danger signs and how to protect yourself can save you time and money. The following list, developed jointly by the Better Business Bureau of Mainland BC, the Competition Bureau of Canada, and the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of BC, is designed to alert the public about the latest frauds and scams in BC.
1. IDENTITY THEFT
ID thieves may use the following tactics to gain access to your personal information for fraudulent purposes: rummaging through your trash or recycling bin, pretending you need to provide information to collect a prize, stealing your mail, placing bogus newspaper ads for jobs and sending unsolicited e-mails posing as your financial institution or service provider (phishing, spoofing or vishing).
QUICK TIP: Make sure to check your credit report annually with Equifax (www.equifax.ca or 1-800-465-7166) and TransUnion Canada (www.tuc.ca or 1-866-525-0262) to ensure that there have been no unauthorized transactions on your report. Shred any information that contains personal details. Never respond to unsolicited e-mails or phone calls with personal information.
2. OVERPAYMENT SCHEMES
A scammer contacts a seller to purchase goods or services. The scammer sends payment in excess to what is owed and advises the seller to deposit and return the excess funds back to the scammer or a third party. By the time the deposited payment is returned as counterfeit or stolen and charged back to the seller?s account, the scammer has received the funds and the merchandise.
QUICK TIP: Never accept payment for more than your selling price. Never agree to refund the excess to a buyer ? a legitimate buyer will not pressure you to do so. After all, why would anyone ever send excess funds? Consider using an independent online payment service. Speak to your credit card service provider to determine what avenues it has to guarantee payment processing.
3. DOOR-TO-DOOR SALES & SCAMS
They come to your door uninvited, offering to renovate your house or sell you a product such as a vacuum cleaner. They take your money and leave you with an overpriced product, shoddy workmanship, or nothing at all. Be very careful when agreeing to purchase anything from a door-to-door salesperson or contractor.
QUICK TIP: Know what you need and take the time to consider any offer. A legitimate salesperson or contractor will give you the time to make the best decision. Get a detailed contract in writing and read the fine print. Check the business out with the BBB. You have the right to cancel door-to-door contracts within the first 10 days for any reason. For information about contract requirements and cancellations or to register a complaint about door-to-door sales or potentially deceptive acts, contact the Business Practices and Consumer Protection Authority of BC toll free at 1-888-564-9963 or visit www.bpcpa.ca.
4. UNSCRUPULOUS MOVING PRACTICES
Some moving companies have unethical practices that tarnish the industry: charging hidden fees or providing a low estimate and then, at delivery, charging more or holding your goods in storage until you pay.
QUICK TIP: Have the moving company provide a detailed estimate in writing and request a firm quote. Check the company out with the Better Business Bureau. Find out what protection the company will provide you in the case of damaged or missing items and make sure that this information is added to your written agreement.
5. MISLEADING PRIZE OFFERS
By simply filling out a ballot or answering a telephone survey, you may be added to a ?suckers list.? Shortly after completing the survey, you may be contacted by someone claiming you have won a free vacation or some other terrific prize. The catch is that in order to collect your prize you must pay a fee, attend a high pressure timeshare seminar or listen to a vacuum cleaner sales presentation.
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In most cases, you will be responsible for either the travel or accommodation portion of the offer or you?ll find the prize isn?t really a prize at all.
QUICK TIP: Only fill out ballots for companies you know well. Ask questions to determine how your information will be used and whether there are hidden fees. If a prize has any conditions or requires that you pay money, you have not won.
6. LOTTERY & SWEEPSTAKE FRAUD
You just received notification that you are one of the ?lucky? cash prize winners. All you have to do to collect your winnings is complete a form with your personal information and send a processing fee plus shipping and handling. Sound familiar? Canadians continue to be bombarded with lottery and sweepstakes scams, all promising huge winnings – with a catch.
QUICK TIP: Responding to one solicitation opens the door to dozens more. Remember, if you?ve won something, it should be free of all charges. To reduce unsolicited mail from companies that belong to the Canadian Marketing Association, call 1-416-391-2362 or visit www.the-cma.org.
7. BOGUS HEALTH & WELLNESS CLAIMS
Fraudulent health treatment claims are a growing concern in the marketplace. They target the most vulnerable consumers such as the overweight and the ill. Beware of too-good-to-be-true advertisements promising ?rapid? and ?effortless? weight-loss or ?miracle cures? and ?newly discovered?
treatments for disease and illness. These scams are designed to steal your money and they may put your health at risk if proper medical treatment is delayed.
QUICK TIP: Before buying any treatment or medication, consult your physician, pharmacist or other health care professional. Any product that has weight-loss properties must have a Drug Identification Number. Confirm its authenticity by contacting Health Canada at 1-866-225-0709 or visit www.hc-sc.gc.ca. Report any bogus health and wellness claims to the Competition Bureau of Canada at 1-800-348-5358 or at www.competitionbureau.gc.ca.
8. UNSCRUPULOUS USED VEHICLE SALES PRACTICES
False promises made by unscrupulous salespeople to entice consumers to purchase ?lemons? puts this category on the list. Complaints to the BBB include verbal misrepresentation of the condition of the vehicle, non-disclosure of previous damage, and claims against the vehicle.
QUICK TIP: Avoid unpleasant surprises by getting the vehicle inspected thoroughly by a mechanic of your choice. Make sure any verbal promises are incorporated into your written agreement. In BC, there is NO cooling off period for the purchase of a vehicle. If you change your mind or are unhappy with a vehicle you have purchased, you are bound to the contract you signed.
9. WORK-AT-HOME SCAMS/BOGUS EMPLOYMENT SERVICES
The advertisement reads: ?Earn money from the comfort of your home stuffing envelopes, assembling products, or completing surveys.? These work-at-home schemes all have one thing in common: you must pay a fee in order to earn it. In one recent twist, respondents to a ?mystery shopping? advertisement are sent a cheque and told to use this as payment for services rendered. They are then told to ?shop? the money transfer service of a specific well-known company and complete a survey on their experience. After cashing the cheque and transferring the funds, the victims learn that the cheque has bounced or is counterfeit and they are out the funds they transferred.
Employment services schemes guarantee access to the ?unadvertised job market? in Canada or abroad, for a fee. In most cases, the information they send you can be obtained for free from other sources.
QUICK TIP: In BC, it is illegal for an employer to charge money in order to provide employment. Work-at-home companies do not provide a legitimate employment opportunity, nor can their earning claims be substantiated. Watch for unreasonable claims of weekly earnings, non-disclosure of the earnings of typical participants, hefty upfront fees or large inventory purchase requirements with vague return policies. If it sounds too good to be true, look elsewhere. Envelope stuffing schemes quite often turn out to be disguised pyramid schemes.
10. UNWANTED OFFICE SUPPLIES OR BOGUS DIRECTORY ADVERTISING SCAMS
In these scams, one of your employees is misled into purchasing unwanted office supplies or advertising at exorbitant prices. Usually, this scam has three parts ? a set-up call, in which the company is contacted for key information about the office equipment it uses or the person to address, followed by an invoice or the unwanted product addressed to that key individual. Lastly, a collection notification is sent which is designed to pressure your company into paying for what was never wanted or needed.
QUICK TIPS: This type of scam preys on new or temporary employees who don?t know who your regular business suppliers are, or companies that pay bills without confirming the order. Make sure your company has centralized accounts payable procedures to confirm all invoices. Train your employees to watch for invoices for products or services not requested.
For more information, please contact:
Sheila Charneski, President
Better Business Bureau of Mainland BC
Manjit Bains, Vice President
Business Practices & Consumer Protection Authority of BC
Don Mercer, Assistant Deputy Commissioner of Competition
Competition Bureau of Canada
Better Business Bureau of Mainland B.C.
Suite 404, 788 Beatty Street
Vancouver, B.C., V6B 2M1
Tel: (604) 681-0312, Fax: (604) 681-1544