Based on the number of inquiries the Attorney General’s office received from consumers, the top 10 disreputable methods used to swindle money from B.C. residents in 1997 were: Phoney Charities In this busy, pre-holiday season, individuals and organizations representing "sound-alike" charities or misrepresenting their affiliation to a known charity are asking British Columbians for donations and pocketing the cash. This practice is leaving some legitimate charities low on funds. If you are unfamiliar with the charity, ask to have a copy of its latest financial statements before you make a donation. Check with the Better Business Bureau or your local police before making a large contribution. Do not send cash. Pay by cheque made out to the charity, not the canvasser. If a professional fund-raiser is being used, find out how much of your donation actually goes to the charity. Telemarketing Slick telemarketers continue to talk B.C. residents out of a lot of cash this year with promises of prizes that failed to materialize. If a friendly stranger on the line promises you a prize, remember: if you won it, you DON’T have to make a purchase or pay a fee to claim it, and you DON’T have to pay for delivery. Foreign Lottery Tickets Many foreign lottery tickets are sold in "pools" with a hefty price tag attached. The pools are sold by insistent and convincing telemarketers who target seniors and only accept payment by credit card or money order. These foreign lotteries are not exclusive offers nor do they guarantee a cash prize as many of their resellers claim. Be cautious about giving your credit card number over the phone. Many victims have been double-billed or over-billed and once the money is gone, the chances of getting it back are slim. 1-900 Numbers to Claim a Prize Thousands of B.C. consumers still don’t realize that dialing a 1-900 number costs them money. Dazzled by "You’re a winner" mailings or winning scratch ’n wind cards, they rush to phone the 1-900 number provided to claim their prize and end up being charged $30-40 for the call — a great cash cow for the business, but not for the "winner" whose prize often amounts to a dollar or two. Phoney Contests and/or Sweepstakes Businesses are still sending junk mail enticing consumers with promises of big cash prizes, in an attempt to get them to send personal information in order to claim their prize. Unfortunately, once identified as an easy target — someone who doesn’t ask a lot of questions or gives out their credit card number — your name is added to a "sucker" list which is then sold to other companies. Stop the cycle before it begins by refusing to provide this information to unknown businesses. Letters from Nigeria Promising Big Profits A criminal syndicate in Nigeria continued to target small businesses this year with promises of big profits for businesses that "invest" in their phoney operation. The faxes and letters they send prey on greed and gullibility. When consumers respond, they can expect a lot of fast-talk and intimidation... but not financial gains. Invoices for goods or services not purchased Beware of invoices for services that were never delivered or items that were never purchased. Many small businesses are particularly vulnerable to this practice because there are often two or more people responsible for purchasing and accounts payable. Always verify invoices, and if one appears to be a phoney, make a copy and call the Better Business Bureau. Vacation Certificates To promote their goods or services, some companies offer special travel certificates for a free trip to an exotic location. The wording on these certificates tends to be vague and doesn’t clearly state that if you take the trip but don’t buy their goods or services, you may end up paying the bill. Sometimes the "free" trip they offer doesn’t include meals, transportation, tips and other hidden expenses which can add up very quickly. A cliché worth remembering: if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Pyramid Schemes/multi-Level Marketing Pyramid schemes — often touted as quick money makers — require you to sell to several of your friends, who in turn sell to their friends, and so on. Many of these schemes are illegal, and even if they’re not, don’t be fooled. No one makes any money except those at the top of the pyramid. If you are thinking about participating, call Industry Canada or the Better Business Bureau for details on the business. Go in with your eyes open and recognize that the scheme may end up costing you money, not making you a profit. Pay-day loan Companies/Advance Fee Loan Companies In 1995 and 1996, companies based in Vancouver marketed loans to thousands of U.S. citizens that required them to pay up-front fees to process their applications. The loans never materialized. While this business practice prompted the Ministry of the Attorney General to introduce legislation which makes it illegal to charge an advance fee to obtain a loan, many companies are still charging "fees" and/or interest rates of 60 per cent or more — rates beyond the legal limit.