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Top 10 list: Most common scams in Minnesota

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Scammers in Minnesota in 2013 relied on some of their favorite frauds – but also picked up a few new nasty tricks as they sought creative ways to steal from state residents, the Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota reported Tuesday.

Fraudsters stick to what works, bureau officials say. “But they’re also crafty. They find ways to put new spins on old scams and by doing so, keep people off-balance,” Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of BBB of Minnesota and North Dakota, noted in a news release.

Among the most common frauds is the lottery scam, which netted thieves $162,000 from an 80-year-old woman in Stewartville, Minnesota – her life savings.

The bureau put together a list of scams to shine a spotlight on the shadowy tactics used by rip-off artists in 2013 to help others avoid falling prey. From the bureau's release, these are the top 10 based on reports the bureau received and trends in the marketplace:

1. Ransomware – When you click on bad links or attachments in emails, your computer files are encrypted and scammers demand a ransom to get them unlocked. If this happens to you, contact a computer expert – but research them first at bbb.org. Always be wary of emails from senders you don’t know and never open or download attachments unless you’re sure you know what it is and that it’s safe.

2. Utility schemes – Consumers receive calls saying their power will be shut off unless a payment is made immediately – usually via Green Dot MoneyPaks. If you have questions about your bill, always contact your utility company directly.

3. Housing rental scams – People find a rental at an unbelievable rate on sites such as craigslist, but discover – after wiring the security deposit or first month’s rent away – that the ad they saw was a phony cribbed from a real listing.

4. Sweepstakes/Lottery scams – A notice saying you’ve won a huge cash prize arrives through the mail, email or via a phone call. All you have to do is pay taxes, insurance or fees and the "prize" will be yours. However, if you have to pay anything to claim your winnings, you haven’t won anything.

5. Bogus collection calls – The phone rings and people are told they owe money and unless they make an immediate payment, they’ll be arrested. Though this sounds scary, legitimate debt collectors cannot make threats like this. Don’t be pressured. Always make sure you know who you’re dealing with and that alleged debts are valid.

6. Pet Scams – People find websites claiming to offer purebred puppies for free. However, they’re told transfer fees have to be wired to release the puppy or payment has to be made to a third-party shipper. Be leery of situations like this and be aware that pet scams are common online, with many of them originating from overseas.

7. Mystery Shopping offers – People receive mailed solicitations, accompanied by sizable checks, to become mystery shoppers. Though the checks look legitimate, they’re bogus. Consumers should be aware that legitimate mystery shopping firms don’t operate in this manner.

8. Phishing scams – Scammers attempt to obtain personal financial information from people through emails claiming to be from trusted senders, such as banks or major retailers. However, the emails contain attachments with viruses or links which can install malware on your computer.

9. Tech Support Scam – You receive a call out of the blue saying there’s a problem with your computer. A ‘helpful’ expert offers to help you fix it and/or asks for your credit card information. Don’t play along! Cooperating could give scammers access to your computer and/or sensitive financial information. When there’s a problem with your computer, you call the expert – not the other way around

10. Fake Overstock sites - In the past year, Better Business Bureau has shut down more than one hundred fraudulent websites that illegally steal the famous BBB logo and imply they are legitimate sites. A noticeable trend recently is websites that include the word “overstock” in the domain name, hoping to fool consumers into thinking they are shopping with Overstock.com. Beware of web addresses that are longer than just “overstock.com” or use any additional words or letters. Any address other than “overstock.com” is not the correct website for the online retailer.

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