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Beware of these top 10 business scams and rip-offs

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The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota and North Dakota (BBB) released a list of the top 10 scams and rip-offs of 2010 this week.

Job hunters and those struggling to get out of debt were common targets of fraudsters, hackers and deceptive offers in this tough economy.

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"With the economy still on the mend, scammers had a field day targeting struggling families who were looking for work and trying to make ends meet," said Dana Badgerow, president and CEO of the BBB. "While some of the most popular scams are perennial problems that have always plagued consumers, some new additions to the list are signs of our challenging economic times."

Following, in no particular order, is the BBB's list of top scams and rip-offs that took advantage of consumers and small business owners across the U.S. in 2010:

• Job hunter scams. Scams targeting job hunters vary and include attempts to gain access to personal information such as bank account or Social Security numbers, and requirements to pay a fee in order to even be considered for the job.

• Debt relief and settlement services. The BBB warned consumers in 2010 to seriously evaluate claims made by companies offering debt relief and settlement services. These companies often require upfront fees and potentially leave the consumer drowning in even more debt. According to tentative year-end estimates, complaints to the BBB regarding debt relief services increased by approximately 30 percent in 2010.

• Work from home schemes. Some work from home schemes promise to teach the secrets to making money online, others claim you can make money assembling items at home or get paid to be a mystery shopper. Some victims even found that their opportunity to work from home was a job to fence stolen goods. The end result is that instead of getting paid, you can end up losing hundreds - if not thousands - of dollars.

• Timeshare resellers. Complaints to the BBB about the timeshare industry - including deceptive resellers - increased by more than 40 percent, according to 2010 estimates. Timeshare owners who are desperate to get rid of their costly vacation property are being targeted by companies that claim they have an eager buyer. The company tells the seller they just have to pay up to several thousand dollars to cover fees. After paying the fees, the seller never hears from the company again.

• Not so "free" trial offers. Misleading free trial offers online for diet supplements, penny auctions and money making schemes blanket the Internet, resulting in thousands of complaints every year. The free trial offers seem no-risk but complainants state they were repeatedly billed every month and found it extremely difficult to cancel.

• Itinerant home repair/roofers. BBBs across the country received complaints from consumers who answered a knock from a door-to-door salesman or itinerant worker who eventually failed to deliver on promises to fix their roof or conduct other work to the home. Complaints to the BBB about roofing companies increased by roughly 40 percent in 2010, according to tentative estimates, due in part to one company that solicited door to door, American Shingle, which received nearly 1,000 complaints nationwide after going bankrupt and not providing new roofs to angry customers.

• Lottery and sweepstakes scams. The victim - often a senior citizen - receives a phony letter or phone call from someone pretending to be with Reader's Digest, Publisher's Clearing House or from a fraudulent foreign lottery. The scammer claims that the victim has won millions but must first wire hundreds or even thousands of dollars back to the scammers to cover taxes or some other bogus fee. The victim wires the money, but the prize never arrives.

• Identity theft. There are any number of ways a person can become a victim of identity theft. Through low-tech theft, phishing emails, vishing phone calls, smishing text messages, or even through no fault of your own as the result of a corporate data breach, millions fall victim to identity theft every year.

• Advance fee loan scams. A perennial problem, advance fee loan scams prey on consumers and business owners who are struggling financially. Victims are told they qualify for large loans but must pay upfront fees - often more than a thousand dollars. The victim wires money to the scammers, but never receives the loan.

• Over-payment scams. Over-payment scams typically target small business owners, landlords or individuals with rooms to rent and sellers on classifieds or sites like Craigslist. The scammers "overpay" the amount for the service or product and then ask the victim to wire the extra amount back to them or to another fraudulent entity. Ultimately, however, the check from the scammers proves to be no good and the victim is out any money they wired back to them.

Consumers or small business owners victimized by a scam can contact their local BBB or file a complaint at www.bbb.org. Always research a business with the BBB before you sign any contracts or hand over any money.

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