The worst scams of 2013

A look at how fraudsters have attempted to con people out of money this year

It's the prize occasion that the winners won't turn up to – not even by video-link.

Yes, it's the scams of the year awards, where we take a look at some of the worst rackets of 2013. So let's hear it big for the swindlers who have tried to con me and many others out of our cash by phone, email and sometimes snail mail. So drum rolls, loud music, flashing lights, and dry ice...

Most Imaginative Scam of the Year

This was a closely run contest between South African James and “fantastic” Sam.

James promised an investment heralded as a “second generation bio-fuel opportunity”. This was the guy who tried to take my cash by asking: “Have you looked into bio-fuels? They are cheaper and cleaner. The company we recommend turns dog faeces waste into ethanol for cars. It costs the UK £20 million a year to clean up canine poo so it is a big market.”

Sam, whose every second word was “fantastic”, offered cut-price gold. The only snag was that it was still somewhere in the ground in Canada so it was unmined gold. All I had to pay was $1,000 an ounce (against about $1,300 at the time for real gold) and wait two years in the hope that the gold bullion would arrive at my front door.

Sam wins – just. His project seemed more genuine than dog poo. It wasn't, but top scam artists inject as much real stuff as they can.

Most Personally Flattering Scam of the Year

The easy winners here are the duo of Aaron and Robert, who addressed me as Sir Anthony Levene, giving me a knighthood well ahead of Her Majesty. And they certainly lavished time on me. Each of their five calls lasted around half an hour, although what they really said could have been summarised in about three minutes.

Working out of a $365-a-month 'virtual office' in Zurich – a maildrop which allows 'tenants' to use its prestige address as if they genuinely occupied space – and using a cheap internet phone line, Aaron and Robert did not try to sell me a spurious investment idea, but shares in the ever so big and very solid Bank of America.

I could have bought them through any stockbroker but this pair had 'special' shares. So special I would never see my money again.

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Nastiest Scam of the Year

They are all nasty as they try to rip you off. But phoney job sites which give hope of a well-paid new career to the unemployed are really evil. There are a number of these which often advertise on free websites and then charge people for applications for non-existent jobs, 'paying' £5,000 to £10,000 a year more than the market rate.

One dodgy site featured a marketing job suitable for a new graduate without previous experience which would provide training in an unspecified and unlisted number of skills. This 'job' paid an almost unbelievable - but hugely attractive - £31,000 a year.

They get their money through premium rate phone lines and £500 “training” for CV writing and interviews. Who cares if they drives people further into debt? They don't.

Sickest Scam of the Year

There's only one contender for this prized award. And that's the very long running Nigerian letter scam.

Only instead of the usual format, which promise you a share in hidden loot from a dead dictator if only you give the writer a helping hand, this one came from the bloodbath in Syria. It purports to be from the brother-in-law of a Syrian government minister who wants my help as “a reputable foreigner” in helping him “secure his family's future in case the unexpected happens”.

In return, I would get 15% of the $73.9million he has apparently squirrelled away. Other Nigerian letters tried to cash in on the death of Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.

Most Persistent Scam of the Year

The clear winner here is the phoney wine industry which just keeps at it. Nothing seems to stop these guys phoning to detail how I shall make a fortune from some bottles of plonk.

It shows persistence but they really have to find something new to say! I know the script by heart at this point.

Saddest Scam of the Year

Step forward the Indian call centres which prey on the elderly and others by creating fear that their computer – often an essential lifeline – is so riddled with malware that it needs instant repair. And that is £199 or £399 or whatever they can get.

I know one person who was so pleased with himself when he bargained the fee down from £249 to £149. Only there was nothing wrong with his computer until he allowed the scammers remote access, so they could introduce a virus which they could then remove. Truly fearful – the more so as they start the call by saying “this is an emergency”.

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