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Top 6 U.S. scams

A growing number of con artists are going old school by trying to rip off consumers over the phone, according to the National Consumers League. The group, which tracks the nation’s most common frauds, says in a new report more than 36 percent of consumer complaints registered in 2013 involved telemarketing fraud.

While dialing for victims is a tactic that’s nearly as old as the phone, today’s telemarking scams use high-tech equipment to target users across the globe, NCL says. Crooks deceive caller ID systems by spoofing local numbers and dial multiple numbers simultaneously, shooting calls to live phone representatives only when the victim answers the phone.

“The days of dialing numbers and calling consumers one by one are long gone,” said John Breyault, NCL’s vice president of public policy on telecommunications and fraud. “Today, scammers can call millions of people with the click of a mouse.”

Overall, the nation’s most prevalent scam remains a fake check con, which involves “overpaying” for a product or service and asking the recipient to refund the difference. By the time the victim realizes that the check used for payment was bogus, the con artist has walked away with the consumer’s money.

This con is particularly pernicious for two reasons. Victims think they’re safe because their own bank may have “cleared” the bogus check before they sent a refund to the crook.  But the fact that your bank made the funds available is not a sign that the check was good. Federal banking rules simply require financial institutions to credit you for a check within a set number of days. The bank is allowed to debit your account – even months later -- if they discover the check was fraudulent.

When the fake check is discovered, the victims often run into trouble with their own banks because once the check is determined to be fraudulent, the entire amount is withdrawn from the consumer’s account. Because the consumer has likely relied on the fake check to pay real bills, that also can lead to overdrafts and bounced check fees.  (The fake check con is particularly common with mystery shopper payments. However, it’s used when people attempt to sell products on eBay and Craig’s List, too. It's such a prevalent con that a consumer group put up a dedicated web site to explain it.)

Con artists share “sucker” lists of the people they’ve conned in the past, according to the Consumers League. They then return to those victims with a new con that promises to recover the lost money. Commonly, the crook will ask for a fee to get your money back. If you pay, you’ll never see the fee – or the recovery – again. Worse, crooks rightly realize that anyone who has been conned twice is vulnerable. So you’re likely to get inundated with future scams, too.

The top six scams in order:

1.  Fake checks
2.  Bad Internet sales – products never delivered or misrepresented
3.  Sweepstakes/prize/free gift cons that request payment to get your winnings.
4.  Advance fee cons that promise a loan or line of credit, if you pay them first.
5.  Phishing scams that attempt to get personal information to get access to your accounts, your tax refund or to open credit cards in your name.
6.  Recovery/refund cons that promise past victims a recovery of swindled funds in exchange for a fee.

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