Would you give $172 million to a voice you’d only met on the phone? Surely not. However, government imposter scams raked in that sum during 2020, according to a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report. Yet that large sum represents just one tiny sliver of revenues scammers collected last year.
Victims filed more than 2.1 million fraud reports with the FTC in 2020; (1) imposter scams topped their list as individuals impersonating the IRS, Social Security representatives, banking officials and others. (2) Online shopping fraud earned second place on the FTC list, elevated in part by a surge triggered by the Coronavirus pandemic.
Scams come in all shapes and sizes: some are highly sophisticated, and others you might spot a mile away. Familiarize yourself with emerging trends and review old favorites, so you don’t become their next victim.
Tracking Scam Reports
Like the FTC, The Better Business Bureau (BBB) tracks scams. Its list ranked online shopping as the top scam. With so many folks staying at home and (1) shopping online, scammer opportunities increased. The BBB’s records show an increase of 24.9% year over year for this crime.
“Scammers are opportunists,” said the BBB’s foundation chief in March as she released their latest statistics. “If there is a shortage of a product, or an opportunity to leverage a person’s heightened emotional state–they will use that scarcity or fear for their personal gain.”
Within the online scam category, pets and pet product complaints were the most plentiful. Scammers specifically targeted would-be animal adopters who couldn’t locate the right pup. Put down a deposit. Now send me money for a travel cage. These scams unfold like an onion, and each layer asks for more cash. The puppy photo you fell in love with was probably lifted from another website.
Individuals 18 to 54 years old made up the group of online victims. Over that age, targets were more likely to fall for other scams. The BBB added that susceptibility to scams has never been this high; nearly half the folks filing claims cited financial loss.
Millions have lost their jobs, so (3) employment scams surged. The BBB issued an interim report on avoiding employment fraud even before their 2020 scam report wrapped up. Job fraud ranked #2 overall on the organization’s list.
Rounding out the BBB’s Top 10 list were the following:
(4) Fake checks or money orders. You get a check for more than expected. It’s from an arranged transaction, then you’re directed to send the overage to another address. Please don’t do it. The check you received is probably bogus.
(5) Advance payment for loan applications. Fees are required just to get a loan processed. There may be no loan at all.
(6) Home improvements—workers sell unnecessary repairs or take big deposits and never return to work.
(8) Romance schemes
The Whole Story
This Top 10 list’s far from complete. Fake charity scams still abound. The FTC recently shut down a vast operation that made over 1.3 billion phone calls to raise funds for fake charities.
Significant money losses also occur with lottery and sweepstakes, as well as telephone and internet service ploys. Then there’s the one about that student tax you didn’t pay (and doesn’t exist), jury duty missed which comes with threats of arrest, computer technical support, and work from home cons.
Fake debt collectors will use strong-arm tactics to make you pay a debt owed. Is it yours? Did someone else run up one or has the statute of limitations to collect expired? Under federal law, you can and should request evidence of alleged debts in writing from the collector before you even consider paying. No proof, no payment owed.
If this list seems endless, it is and it’s expanding daily. Scams raked in more than $3.3 billion nationwide last year—a whopping $1.5 billion increase over 2019. Additionally, 34% of consumers who filed a fraud report with the FTC reported losing money, up from 23% the year before.
The real damage doesn’t end in your wallet. Victims also report losing vast chunks of time, and wind up with rattled peace of mind and diminished self-confidence if they’re tricked.
Since the Coronavirus pandemic, the BBB, FTC and even the U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security have issued new warnings. One of the first scams to debut utilized texts directed recipients to take a Covid test and pay for it.
When vaccines started rolling out in early 2021, scammers dialed it up a notch. Vaccine scams now offer easy appointments—for a scheduling fee. With a new round of stimulus checks hitting bank accounts, you should anticipate even more swindles designed to grab your money.
Your legal rights vary depending on how you pay the charges, and crooks’ preferred methods evolve according to BBB. There’s been a drop in scams seeking prepaid card funds, but online payments like PayPal have spiked.
You can learn to sidestep con artists, but often those tactics won’t spring to mind if you find yourself in rapid-fire, high-pressure conversation. That’s understandable so try to keep just one major red flag in mind.
- See red whenever someone asks you to pay via wire transfer or gift or prepaid debit card. You buy the ecard then must surrender the code as “proof.” Money disappears in a flash—before cooler heads can prevail. Avoid this one tactic, and you’ll dodge quite a few scams.
Don’t accept the offer to decline future texts by replying “STOP” or “NO.” Scammers want confirmation your phone number is active; they have no intention of stopping if you ask them to desist. Instead, block texts and calls on your phone.
IDShield urges you to report all scams you detect. The BBB scammer report map displays current complaints so consumers can check its scam potential before committing to anything. AARP also maintains a map of recent scams to let consumers see what’s occurring in their area. Even the FTC is asking savvy consumers to reach out to their circle of friends and share alerts. If we look out for each other, scam statistics could drop significantly.
IDShield is a product of Pre-Paid Legal Services, Inc. d/b/a LegalShield (“LegalShield”). LegalShield provides access to identity theft protection and restoration services. For complete terms, coverage, and conditions, please see an identity theft plan. All Licensed Private Investigators are licensed in the state of Oklahoma. This is meant to provide general information and is not intended to provide legal advice, render an opinion, or provide any specific recommendations.