The worst scams of 2014

We look at which scams have been the most persistent, creative and downright evil of 2014

Updated: 
The worst scams of 2014

Let's take a look at some of the most horrible scams of the last 12 months.

The most evil

All scams are nasty. But those that deliberately set out to exploit tragedy are the nastiest. When the Malaysian Airline MH17 plane was shot down over Ukraine, there were online fraudsters who saw the disaster as a money-making opportunity.

They used the names and photos of victims to set up false Facebook pages which innocent people were intended to see as a tribute to those who were slaughtered. The idea was to collect money, drive traffic to dodgy websites and collect details of those leaving condolences for future scam use.

It is sadly almost inevitable that there will be a major tragedy somewhere during the coming year. It is equally certain that evil scamsters will look to take advantage.

The most persistent

TalkTalk, my internet service provider, promises to remove spam. Yet I receive up to ten emails a day telling me I have paid some invoice or I am owed money by a firm. It's all rubbish, but those behind this mass spamming hope that I will open one of their attachments. Doing that will unleash a torrent of malware which could end up with a form of cyber-blackmail, where I have to send £200 or so to a firm promising to remove the viruses they have sent before I can use my computer again.

It's easy enough to beat a spam filter if you know how – and these racketeers certainly know how.

Shopping voucher scams are equally persistent. Emails headed "Still time to claim your £1,000 Argos/Asda/Marks & Spencer/Morrisons/Sainsbury/Tesco voucher" lead recipients to believe they have won a valuable shopping voucher. They haven't, but the scamsters hope that they will spend money on a 'competition' on their way to discovering the truth. Even if they don't, they have a list of those susceptible to this approach.

A new variant is a "consumer survey" supposedly from a utility firm, backed by the promise of prizes. Mine apparently came from EDF, though as I have never dealt with the firm I'm not sure why would it bother to ask me my thoughts about its service? Of course it's all nonsense, and EDF has nothing to do with it.

The most imaginative

This has to go to the offshore fraudsters who promised I could multiply £15,000 by 20 or even 50 times just by investing in a gaming app. This would involve players working through a virtual goldmine's shafts and galleries – with a tiny amount of real gold for those who manage to complete the game (with in-app purchases topping £1,200). They name-checked a top advertising agency and some leading banks to make it seem real.

They even 'revealed' the game's developer – it turned out to be a small website design company in East Anglia. It had all the elements of realism necessary for a sting.

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The most absent

Some scams which raked in millions from the unsuspecting in previous years have fallen off the radar. Old favourites such as carbon credits, landbanking, and rare earth minerals seem to have slipped away, although one firm tried to get me to invest into "wonder material" graphene.

The Insolvency Service has shut down a number of fraudulent companies. There has been little activity on the overpriced "vintage wine" front either. But as the perpetrators of many of these frauds are still not in prison, expect them to come back with a new scam for 2015.

The most perennial

Property is always a good racket, especially if the scamster can combine it with an event or the intended victim's desire to prevent global warming.

Brazil remains a good bet. It had the World Cup in 2014 and will host the Olympics in 2016, so there are plenty of stories to spin around the "demand" the games will set off. Throw in the fact that everyone wants to protect rainforests, and you have a perfect patter, enabling the fraudster to sell land worth a cent or two an acre for hundreds of dollars.

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Read more on scams on AOL Money

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