The Vermont Attorney General's Office recently issued a warning to Vermonters about a scam targeting Facebook users.
Officials say the scammer gains access to a person's Facebook account and then sends a message to the "friends" saying their names are on the U.S. Treasury Department's unclaimed funds list. The message has an email address and phone number to call. When contacted, the scammer asks the consumer to wire money to pay for taxes and fees to get the cash.
The attorney general says the scammer has accessed at least one Vermont legislator's Facebook account and contacted the "friends."
The office says any Facebook message about unclaimed funds is a scam. It says the Vermont Treasurer's Office has an unclaimed property program but does not send Facebook messages, emails or letters to consumers.
Unfortunately, this is just one of dozens of scams out there by unscrupulous people who will try to steal your hard-earned money. It's become so widespread that the Better Business Bureau has a list of the 10 most common scams, how to recognize them, and how to avoid becoming a victim.
1 -- Bogus Health Products is a scam that been around since the 1800s. Talk to your doctor before using any "new" health product -- especially those marketed directly to consumers and which make outrageous claims.
2 -- Advance Fee Loans: If a loan company asks you for payment upfront, they're not legitimate.
3 -- The Nigerian Scam: Since the 1980s, this scam has defrauded scores of U.S. consumers. Via email you learn a rich foreign relative has died or is trying to get funds out of a war-torn region. You have to give them money upfront. Payment occurs via wire transfer; sometimes a fake check is sent. Checks bounce and people are out the money they wired.
4 -- The Grandparent Scam: Victims receive a call from a "grandchild" in distress in a foreign country. Grandparents are told to wire money to "the police." Make them give you their name. Insist on calling your son or daughter. Chances are, you'll find your grandchild safe at home.
5 -- Foreign lotteries or sweepstakes: A check comes in the mail -- to cover "taxes, fees or insurance." You're supposed to cash the check and wire back funds to claim your prize, but the check is no good. If you have to send money, even if they send you a check, you haven't won anything.
6 -- Overpayment Scams: Your classified or Craigslist ad receives an e-mail expressing interest in the item. The mystery buyer wants the item delivered through a shipper. They offer to overpay for the item and want you to wire the excess funds after the check is deposited. Never accept a check for more than the selling price and never agree to wire back funds to a buyer.
7 -- Charity Scams: Fraudulent solicitations come over the phone with scammers pretending to be affiliated with legitimate charities. Other scams involve bogus websites created to fool people into providing credit cards. Use charities' own websites directly. You can investigate unfamiliar charities online at www.bbb.org/us/charity.
8 -- Employment/Mystery Shopping Scams: Red flags to watch for include requests for an upfront fee; unsolicited job offers or employment offers that promise exorbitant pay for working just a few hours a day or from your home; "Companies" that seek sensitive personal or financial information for credit or background checks.
9 -- Phishing: Scammers, masquerading as a legitimate organization, send official-seeming e-mail to get you to reveal sensitive data.
10 -- Smishing: Cell phone text messages deliver the "bait" to get people to divulge their personal information. They claim there's a problem with your debit or credit card or bank account, and that it's been frozen.
The best way to protect yourself from any of these scams is to never divulge personal or financial information over the phone. Don't be pressured into making a decision on the spot; tell the solicitor you'll call them back and then take the time to conduct due diligence. It may sound cliché, but if something sounds too good to be true then it probably is.