Cleveland BBB reports pandemic used as part of 2020 top 10 scams

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CLEVELAND — The Cleveland Better Business Bureau released its top ten list of scams for 2020 and said con artists used the on-going pandemic as a significant part of their consumer ploys last year.

Cleveland BBB President Sue McConnell told News 5 online purchase scams topped the list due to a dramatic increase in web-based buys due to COVID-19 impact.

“COVID-19 was a new category for us, that disease was woven into so many other scams,” McConnell said.

McConnell said scammers thrive online where they can pose as trustworthy businesses and bilk unsuspecting buyers. Counterfeit goods, medical quackery products, substandard or defective merchandise coupled with rental scams, puppy scams, etc., are easily found on the web and were prevalent this year in BBB reports.

Ricardo Lara reported he was the victim of an online purchase scam when he attempted to buy a puppy online in December. Lara said he lost his $500 down payment when the website refused to give him payment options and refused to refund his money.

“My wife and I thought wow that’s a good deal, which if things are too good to be true, they usually are. That should have been a red flag there.“After I’d gotten off the phone with him, I realized I had been duped,” Lara said.

“It’s very upsetting, especially around the holidays, you’re expecting to get something, and you think you have a deal with somebody,” he added. “I guess these days you got think that somebody is always out to get you, until they prove you otherwise, which is sad.”

McConnell said phishing scams were second on the 2020 top 10 list.

“They solicit victims by email, text, or phone calls typically urge victims to click a link, share personal, confidential information, or download an attachment that likely contains malware.”

“In the case of an email or text, the link frequently leads to a form that prompts the victim to enter personal information which can be used to steal identities or even access bank accounts.”

McConnell said government agency imposters, sweepstakes scams and tech scams made it into the top 5 in 2020.

She said employment scams jumped from being ninth in 2019 to being sixth in 2020 for most popular local scams.

“These often take advantage of individuals who are seeking additional income (e.g. college students) or the flexibility of working from home during the COVID-19 crisis,” McConnell said. “These scams also typically attempt to get the victim to pay for software, certification, or other items as a requirement for being hired. Many also send victims counterfeit checks as part of the ploy.”

Fake check and money order scams and government grants were next on the list.

“Fake government grant scams are similar to government agency imposters,” McConnell said. “This past year’s Government Grant scams were a reflection of current news events and consumer economic fears. Many surfaced on social media sites and offered grants to pay off debt, rent, and other expenses.”

McConnell said debt collection scams and COVID-19 scams rounded out the top ten.

“The COVID-19 category, like government agency imposters, was a new category for 2020 and often concerned online purchases for medical-related supplies and or were cited in puppy scams as a reason a scammer would solicit more money.”

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