Imposter Fraud Leads Top Scams Table

Imposters led our top scams list for 2018 but what’s ahead for 2019?: Internet Scambusters #836

Scam artists spend much of their evil lives pretending to be someone they’re not, so it’s no surprise that imposter fraud heads up our annual review of top scams for 2018.

But will it be the same in 2019? Probably — but we also expect to see a continuation of the surge in cybercrimes like hacking and virtual currency scams in the year ahead.

In this week’s issue, we’ll give the lowdown on the scam story so far, based on research and anecdotal information, plus a gaze into the crystal ball for the coming months.

Let’s get started…

Imposter Fraud Leads Top Scams Table

Did you get scammed in 2018? We certainly hope not; if you’re a regular Scambusters reader we hopefully gave you enough warnings to sidestep the top scams of the year.

However, millions of Americans were not so fortunate.

The most common trick during the past year has been imposter scams — people claiming to be someone they’re not.

This con trick comes in many different guises, but the aims are always the same: either to extract money or steal identity information from victims.

The past year has seen an increasing trend toward use of phones rather than emails to perpetrate imposter fraud, many of the calls spoofing local or official phone numbers to make them seem more realistic.

When you think of it, many scams actually involve people pretending to be someone they’re not. But the 7 most frequent types of what we’ll call straightforward imposter scams we’ve witnessed in the past year are:

1. Fake support technicians claiming you have a fault on your computer. Often, they say they’re from Microsoft. The company gets more than 100,000 complaints a year about these tricksters, who either want payment to supposedly fix a non-existent problem on your PC or install malware including ransomware and botnet programs.

However, the crime now extends well beyond use of the Microsoft name to include other tech firms like Dell, and it also targets more than Windows-powered PCs. Apple and Android devices are also being targeted.

2. Law enforcement imposters usually claiming you failed to show up for jury duty, a particular rampant scam during the closing months of 2018.

3. Utility company fakers targeting both individuals and businesses, warning their power supply will be cut if they don’t pay a supposedly past-due bill within the next 24 hours.

4. So-called grandparent scammers (though their targets are much wider than just older folk), claiming to be a distressed relative or friend (or police holding them) and in urgent need of money, which they want you to wire.

5. Bogus IRS officials chasing unpaid tax bills. We’ll be taking a closer look at the latest tax scams in a future issue.

6. Bank and credit card company imposters. Pretending to be officials from the bank or card company, officials ask you to give them confidential account information, which they then use for identity theft.

7. Although the number of calls is relatively small, we’ve also seen growth in imposter scams where crooks claim to be kidnappers demanding a ransom, sometimes using horrifying torture sound tracks to make their calls seem more convincing.

Looking back across the year, other areas where we’ve seen a growing volume of con tricks include: fake debt collection agencies — sometimes using heavy-handed tactics to force people to pay; travel scams, notably crooks advertising properties they don’t own or pretending to own Airbnb rentals; and romance scams, especially targeting members of the military and older female age groups.

Crypto Crime

One new type of scam that took off during 2018 is built around cryptocurrencies — virtual currencies following in the wake of the likes of Bitcoin and Ethereum (though the scams in the main did not target these two).

We reported on crypto scams, especially crypto-jacking (using your computer to mine currencies) and fake new-currency launches, in a previous issue and it’s likely we’ll see big growth in this type of fraud during the coming year.

It’s worth stressing that if you’re thinking of investing in cryptocurrencies, you should definitely speak to a reputable financial advisor who knows and understands these markets.

With all the natural disasters we witnessed in 2018 and with dire warnings about further hurricanes and forest fires in the coming year, allegedly because of climate change, it’s likely that we’ll see a surge in disaster scams during 2019.

These include contractor scams (fakers offering to do repairs), charities and other phony fund-raising tricks, and flood- or fire-damaged cars. Watch out for these tricksters, wherever you are.

The New Year will also see the final installment of the roll-out of new Medicare cards, which don’t use Social Security numbers.

The program is due for completion by April and if 2018 was anything to go by, scammers will continue to try to exploit this change by phoning Medicare subscribers and claiming they have to pay a fee before the new card can be activated. Don’t believe them.

One more warning: Expect to see a continuing torrent of reports about data breaches from companies and other organizations, big and small.

Monitor your bank and card accounts daily if you can, and make sure you know what to do if your details are stolen. See this guide from Experian, one of the main credit agencies: Here’s What You Should Do After a Data Breach.

Simple Rules

Finally, as always, we advise readers to follow two simple rules to avoid falling victim of scam:

1. Never give or send money to someone you don’t know and haven’t authenticated, especially if they ask for payment using gift cards or money-wiring services. It’s nearly always a scam.

2. Never give out confidential information such as bank account or card details, Medicare or Social Security numbers to anyone over the phone or in email, no matter who they claim to be.

Follow those two rules and your chances of falling victim to a top scam in 2019 will be extremely low.

Alert of the week

A new mystery shopper scam is making the rounds in the form of an email supposedly from major retailer Target.

It invites you to go buy an item from the retailer and then write a review in return for a $400 gift card.

The email spoofs a genuine Target Internet address but the link for posting reviews actually takes recipients to a hijacked website where they’re asked to provide personal details.

Don’t even think of it. Why would Target give you $400 for writing a review? One give-away that it’s a scam: The email calls it a misspelt “mistery” shopping opportunity. More like a “misery” if you fall for it!

Time to conclude for today — have a great week!