Top 10 scams of 1998 as compiled by the Consumer Services Division of the Ministry of the Attorney General. 1. Pyramid Schemes Often touted as quick money makers, pyramid schemes require you to sell products or services to several of your friends, who in turn sell to their friends, and so on. In these kinds of schemes, the merchandise, product or service to be sold is not important and little or no mention is made regarding a market for the goods or services. Instead, participants attempt to recoup their investments in the products by recruiting from an ever-decreasing number of potential investors. These schemes are illegal, so don't be fooled. No one makes any money except those at the top of the pyramid. 2. Foreign Lotteries In B.C., fraudulent telemarketers selling phoney foreign lottery tickets often target elderly U.S. residents. In high-pressure sales pitches, people are told they've already won money or are virtually guaranteed to do so. Many of the tickets are sold in "pools" with hefty price tags attached. Recent changes to B.C.'s Trade Practice Act have clarified that B.C. laws protect consumers outside the province who are dealing with B.C. businesses. And last year, using a co-operative cross border approach, the Ministry of Attorney General shut down four B.C.-based companies reselling lottery tickets. A similar investigation last month shut down another company. 3. Bogus Charities In the busy holiday season, individuals and organizations representing "sound-alike" charities or misrepresenting their affiliation to a known charity are asking British Columbians for donations and then pocketing the cash. The practice is leaving some legitimate charities low on funds. Recent changes to the Trade Practice Act have brought new protection for consumers contributing to charities. The act regulates business practices involving consumer transactions to ensure fairness in the marketplace by preventing deceptive, misleading and unconscionable business practices. If you're in doubt about the legitimacy of a charity, you can also call Revenue Canada toll-free at 1-800-267-2384 to find out if an organization is a registered charity. 4. Quebec Telemarketers While elderly U.S. consumers were targeted by B.C.-based telemarketers reselling foreign lottery tickets again this year, Quebec-based telemarketers continued to talk B.C. residents out of a lot of cash with promises of non-existent prizes. If a friendly stranger on the other end of the phone line promises you a prize, remember: if you really 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. Don't give your credit card or chequing account number over the phone. And keep in mind that there aren't any legitimate companies calling from Quebec who will ask you to send money to "pay" for a prize. 5. Home Renovators Home renovation horror stories can include tales of leaky roofs, crooked walls and plaster disasters. Though problems sometimes stem from a lack of professional experience, all too often the shoddy job is the work of a scam artist who is only out for a quick profit and has no intention of doing a good job. When hiring a contractor to carry out home renovations, get detailed estimates from at least three companies, be wary of quick estimates and don't allow anyone to pressure you into making a hasty decision. Also remember that in B.C., contractors who go door to door are direct sellers and must be licensed if the contract exceeds $50. Ask for identification that proves it. Licensed direct sellers are also required to include a seven-day cancellation clause in your contract. If you do cancel, you don't have to give a reason. 6. Florida Timeshare Travel Promotions In this scheme, vacation certificates for holidays in Florida are the "prize" given out in various contests or promotions at trade shows and through the mail. But what was supposed to be your free trip can end up costing you hundreds of dollars and you won't be told that the charges are in U.S. funds. As if that wasn't enough, the offer is conditional on your attendance at a timeshare sales presentation. When it comes to any travel deal, don't be impressed by glossy brochures and promises. Book through B.C.-registered travel agencies so you will be protected by the travel assurance fund. 7. Phoney Directories and Invoices This year, like every year, B.C. companies were fooled into purchasing expensive manuals and business directories over the phone. This scam often starts with a telemarketer calling your receptionist to confirm your company's address and to get the name of a purchasing agent or manager. Another call is made a few days later to someone else in your company. The second employee may inadvertently confirm the directory order by verifying the telemarketer's previously obtained information. Within a week the directory may arrive — along with a pricey invoice. In the bogus invoice scam, companies receive invoices for goods or services they haven't ordered. In many cases, especially with larger companies, these "look alike" invoices are paid by unwary accounts personnel. To protect your business from the bogus directory and invoice scam, educate your staff to recognize these types of solicitations. 8. Bogus Employment Opportunities Trying to get a job on a cruise ship or with an airline? Many advertisements for jobs with these kinds of companies are bogus. The ads actually sell booklets of worthless information in the form of lists of companies that may or may not be hiring for these types of jobs. Use caution, especially when the ads involve payment of fees for a booklet and keep in mind that the lists are often compiled from information readily available through public sources such as government listings or newspaper ads. Remember that legitimate companies do not hire other companies to sell consumers information about job opportunities. If you want to work in the airline or cruise ship industry, contact the company you're interested in directly. 9. Bogus Modelling and Talent Agencies If you dream about becoming a model or an actor, you should be careful about responding to any approach or advertisement that promises to make your dreams come true. Bogus modelling and talent agencies charge big bucks for acting classes, workshops, photographs and portfolios. You may also be expected to pay for inclusion in a promotional agency book. Keep in mind that a modelling or talent agency is not a school. Modelling agencies that offer courses must be registered with the B.C. Private Post-Secondary Education Commission. 10. Junk Mail and Faxes For years, consumers have complained about the amount of unsolicited mail to their door. Now, they're also getting junk faxes. If this is happening to you, remember that Canadian Radio-television and Telecommunications Commission regulations state that unsolicited faxes must contain the sender's address, telephone and fax numbers so customers can request that they not be called again. Such request must be honoured within seven days and remain active for three years. If you are receiving calls or faxes from a company that does not follow these regulations, call B.C. Tel customer service and provide as many details as possible about the problem.