The race is on to list the 'Top 10 Scams of 2007'

As with any "Top 10" list, my first question is "says who?" As each year winds down, news organizations, websites, and bloggers race to discuss the top scams for the year. Some rely on government statistics, others use their own personal experience, and still others scour the internet for the most popular consumer scams.

So the lists are largely unscientific, but entertaining nonetheless. One of the first lists for 2007 is out, and it includes:

1. Foreign Lotteries
– These are perpetrated via email or a fake check in your mailbox. Don't be fooled... You didn't really win a lottery. The scammers just want your bank information.
2. Phishing – You receive an email telling you that you've been locked out of an online account or you need to confirm information on an account. Don't give up your data! Schemers are commonly posing as employees of the IRS, eBay, or PayPal to get your information.
3. Counterfeit Checks – Someone asks you to cash a check for them using your bank, and you can keep some of the proceeds. If the check turns out to be a fake, you will probably have to pay back the bank. Don't cash the check!
4. Puppy Scam – I've never heard of this one, but they say it's popular. You receive a letter asking you to adopt a puppy, and there's a check included. You are asked to cash the check and send back some of the money to pay for adoption fees. The check ends up being a fake and you owe the bank money.
5. Work At Home Scams – While there are some legitimate ways to earn money from home, many of the offers you see are scams. You should never have to pay money in order to do one of these jobs. Avoid multi-level marketing companies that ask you to "invest" money or other opportunities that require a sign-up fee or the purchase of a starter kit or instruction manual.
6. Mystery Shopping – There are some legitimate opportunities for people to be secret shoppers and report back to companies about how their employees did. But there are also a number of scams out there, and you should not have to pay to participate in a legitimate gig.
7. Gas Pills – These pills promised increased gas mileage, leading to a significant savings on fuel costs. They're the equivalent of moth balls and they don't work. The company promoting them, BioPerformance, was made to pay consumers $7 million.
8. Online Coupons – Counterfeit onoine coupons are hard to detect. Many retailers do use legitimate online coupons to give discounts to consumers. But beware: a store might refuse the coupon you printed out because it's a fake.
9. Auction Websites – As more and more consumers make purchases from sites like eBay, we're also finding more who are scammed. The scams range from counterfeit merchandise to failure to deliver the product. Be careful, and purchase only from sellers with good ratings.
10. ATM Skimming – Scammers are attaching their equipment to ATM machines in order to steal the data from the magnetic stripe on your card. Be on the lookout for devices attached to the machines.

The list of consumer scams is endless, but these are some of the more common ones and consumers need to stay alert. The most basic rule when protecting yourself from scams? If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is.

Forensic accountant Tracy L. Coenen, CPA, MBA, CFE performs fraud examinations and financial investigations through her company, Sequence Inc. Forensic Accounting. The Association of Certified Fraud Examiners honored Tracy as the 2007 winner of the prestigious Hubbard Award and her first book, Essentials of Corporate Fraud, will be on bookshelves in March 2008.
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