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The Boston Globe

Business

For scammers, text messages, online ads offer more ways to cheat consumers

Every day, thousands of people fall for hundreds of different scams.

There are the e-mails claiming they have won a prize — all the recipient has to do is send a bank account number. Of course such information should not be shared but people do it anyway.

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There are Craigslist ads for apartments that don’t exist. The scammers are trying to obtain credit card information and bank account and Social Security numbers so they can steal your identity.

Many scams are old, such as “lotteries” seeking service-fee payment from “winners.” But with technology such as text messaging, scammers have more ways than ever to do their dirty work.

Why are so many of us so gullible? Kase Chong, marketing director of Scambook, a Los Angeles company that helps consumers resolve complaints of all kinds, said scammers prey on a need, most often to save or make money quickly.

The elderly, especially, are being targeted by scammers.

‘‘There are three things that open the elderly up to being scammed,’’ Chong said. ‘‘They might have a nest egg. They have a more trusting sense, and they also tend to not be as familiar with technologies such as text messaging. They have pride. They don’t want to ask questions they should be asking.’’

This past year, Scambook received reports of elderly people being scammed on the legitimate dating website Christian Mingle. One woman mortgaged her house and sent $80,000 to a man she had never met who established an online relationship with her, Chong said. That money was not recovered.

Scambook listed the three top frauds it saw in third-quarter 2012:

1. Free Best Buy $1,000 gift card: A spam text message disguised as an official offer from Best Buy attempts to gain financial information or other private data.

2. HCG Ultra: A diet supplement described by more than 240 Scambook users as misleading, with alleged connections to phishing —a fraudulent attempt to acquire personal information through e-mail — and social media hacking.

3. SurveyCruise.com: A telemarketing call targets mobile phone users and tries to obtain information through a free-cruise offer.

Consumers can go to www.scambook.com to see the types of complaints being made.

If you feel you have been wronged by a company, you can get help from Scambook. Enter the name of the company, person, or phone number, then select the complaint type. There is no charge.

After you submit a complaint, you can view your complaint status. Scambook will notify you of any updates. Scambook accepts all types of complaints, such as those about bad service, false advertising, and deceptive business practices.The company says it has resolved close to $1 billon in reported damages since it was started in 2011.

Craigslist is popular with scammers. Here are Scambook’s tips about that site:

Trust your instincts: If an ad seems phony, don’t proceed.

Stay local: Craigslist is designed to be city/region specific. If anyone makes excuses for why they cannot meet, it’s a red flag.

Avoid wire transfers, cashier’s checks, and money orders: If something goes awry when making a wire transfer (through MoneyGram, for example), the money will not be protected. Exchange cash instead, with large transactions being performed in a bank.

Never use online escrow: If someone insists on using an escrow website, cancel the transaction immediately. Online escrow sites are often run by scammers.

Don’t commit without seeing the goods: Make sure an item is up to standards.

Don’t fall for job scams: Be wary of ‘‘employers’’ who don’t require an interview, and visit the job’s physical location prior to sending personal information.

Craigslist doesn’t certify listings: Anyone who claims to be ‘‘certified’’ or ‘‘guaranteed’’ by Craigslist is probably a scammer.

Research the buyer/seller: Use both Scambook and Google to search for the person’s name, e-mail, or business name.

Don’t offer more personal data than necessary: Don’t release personal information in a public listing. The only information consumers need to list in a Craigslist ad could be a free disposable phone number created by Google Voice. If someone needs to retrieve an item from a home address, put the item outside and do not let the buyer in.

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