By Jerri Stroud, BBB Editor
Did you get that offer of an “easy job” a “free vacation” or help retiring your student loans in your email or on the phone? Yep, so did we. And so do many, many consumers in Missouri, Illinois and all over North America.
For years, about all BBB could do with these scam reports was try to dissuade people from sending money to claim a sweepstakes prize or get their computer fixed remotely. Because the perpetrators were nearly impossible to locate, there was little we could do to help. On occasion, we might issue a press release if we received a number of reports from consumers questioning one scam or another.
BBB now has developed a great tool to help us track scams and help consumers who suspect that the call, text, email or letter they got in the mail wasn’t legitimate.
BBB Scam Tracker is an online tool that allows anyone to report a scam or check out suspicious phone calls, emails or texts. With a few clicks, they can see whether the scam has been reported previously. A map shows where scams have been reported.
A consortium of nine local BBBs along with the Council of Better Business Bureaus developed Scam Tracker and tested it in 2014. With a grant from Target Corp. and the support of Accredited Businesses, BBB Scam Tracker was extended to all BBBs in the United States and Canada earlier this year and will soon be expanded to Mexico.
The tool allows consumers and BBBs to share alerts about suspected scams, regardless of whether they lost money or simply received a suspicious offer. Consumers can search scams by name or type, spot trends or track scams using demographic data. Consumers can access the site at https://www.bbb.org/scamtracker/stlouis.
Michelle Corey, BBB president and CEO, said she believes the tool will be useful in helping consumers avoid losing money or unknowingly giving up sensitive personal or financial data to identity thieves. BBBs can share information on scams they’re seeing, helping others avoid fraud.
“Our staff receives dozens of phone calls every day about bogus offers for everything from advance fee loans to foreign lotteries and more,” Corey said.
BBB expects that Scam Tracker will be used to determine which scam is “hot” in a certain region. As Scam Tracker gathers more information about a scam, BBB will share the information with the National Cyber-Forensics and Training Alliance (NCFTA) for analysis and collaboration with law enforcement. Where possible, agencies will shut down and prosecute the most flagrant scammers. If the scammer is overseas, information will be shared with authorities in those countries.
To date, more than 10,700 scams nationwide have been reported nationwide, and 249 in Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois. Losses nationwide topped $3.4 million, and locally, victims have lost nearly $23,500.
Top scams reported in Eastern Missouri and Southern Illinois include IRS imposters, government grant and tech support scams. Other scams reported include sweepstakes, debt collection, employment scams and others. Many people who reported scams had not lost money because they suspected the person contacting them was up to no good.
One St. Louis area woman reported, “Jack from Global Pharmacy called to tell me he was calling about my medications. I take no medications. . . . I have been called twice. Both times I have informed them this is a scam and to remove me from their calling list.”
BBB also will issue tips and alerts to help consumers avoid becoming a victim of these scams.
BBB encourages BBB Accredited Businesses and Accredited Charities to share this tool with their employees, customers and other acquaintances. The more information that can be shared, the more we can work to fight fraud that targets some of the most vulnerable consumers.
To use BBB Scam Tracker, click here.