Follow our Top 10 tips to avoid imposter tricks and other scams: Internet Scambusters #949
Could you be convinced by an imposter that they are who they say they are?
Hundreds of thousands of us do every year. And it's costing Americans a huge chunk out of a total scam bill of $3.2 billion in the past year alone.
In this week's issue, we'll explain the biggest scam risks, based on a new report, together with our top 10 tips on how to avoid falling into the scammers' trap.
Let's get started…
Imposter Scams Lead Way to Victims' $3.2 Billion Losses
Crooks are raking in more than $3 billion a year in the US because of a massive increase in the number of imposter scams in the past year.
Now consumers are being urged to report on the fraudsters instead of keeping quiet because of embarrassment to help law enforcement track down the con artists.
The US Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says it received 2.2 million scam complaints in 2020, but the real number is likely much higher.
For instance, the broader Consumer Sentinel Network, to which the FTC contributes, actually reported 4.7 million frauds, including identity theft, which saw a near thirty-fold rise in illegal benefits claims.
In many cases, the benefits scams were not identified until victims realized that claims were being made in their names. This happened to more than 400,000 people.
Even based just on the FTC numbers, excluding ID theft, reported crimes cost consumers $3.2 billion last year, compared with $1.8 billion in 2019.
FTC Pleads for Help
More than a third of the 2020 total went to imposters -- scammers posing as government officials, utility suppliers, retailers and even family members.
"We can only fight scammers with your help," the FTC pleaded to the public.
"When you report to the FTC, your report is instantly available to more than 3,000 federal, state, and local law enforcers across the country who are looking to fight fraud."
Phones remain the imposters' weapon of choice, especially through increasing use of SMS text messages. Fake offers of loans and stimulus payments and phony alerts claiming victims had packages waiting to be collected were the main tricks.
The increase in online shopping because of lockdowns and self-isolation is also being blamed for a dramatic rise in scams in this category, with more than 350,000 people claiming they've been conned while trying to buy items on the Internet.
Among the surprising facts uncovered by the new report is the disclosure that younger people reported losing money to scammers more often than older people, though this might conceal a reluctance on the part of seniors to admit to falling victim. And when older folk did lose money, the average amount was higher than losses reported by younger age groups.
Top 10 Tips
So, how can you avoid becoming one of the millions more citizens expected to be scammed this year?
Here are our top 10 tips based on Scambusters' decades of reporting on Internet fraud and other scams:
- Never assume a person who contacts you -- by phone, email, text or even face-to-face -- is who they say they are. Ask for ID. And even if you think they're genuine, double check with the individual they claim to be or the organization they claim to represent.
For more help with identifying and avoiding imposters, see our earlier issues at Imposter Scammers Pose as Registry Officials -- and Even Spies! and Impostor Scams Now Costing Americans $328 Million a Year.
- In addition, be a skeptic about anything that seems to offer deals that are too good to be true, whether it's in a sales call, a social media ad, or an email. Free-gift and high-value coupon offers are often either fake or used as bait to lure you into costly scams. And don't pass them on to others unless you know them to be genuine.
- Keep all your confidential information -- bank accounts, usernames, passwords, and so on -- secret. Unless you made contact first, most individuals and firms will never ask for this information.
- Keep tabs on all your financial accounts, daily if you can, checking for any unusual activity. Report it to the account provider (such as a bank or retailer) as soon as you suspect fraud.
- When you buy online, try to stick with sellers that you already know or have a proven reputation measured by customer feedback. If you must buy from someone you don't know, research their name and reputation thoroughly.
- Never be rushed into a buying decision no matter how much someone pressures you to "act now."
- Don't send money or pay for anything to someone you don't know or haven't verified using untraceable methods like money-wiring, gift cards, and cyber currencies. If you use any of these, you're unlikely ever to be able to get your money back.
- Use and keep updated security software and browser add-ons that will identify suspicious sites for you. And use different passwords for every single site where money changes hands.
- Don't pay to get money -- whether it's a supposed lottery prize or a loan. And don't pay for kits and training materials for a supposed work from home job.
- Keep yourself informed about the latest scams. You can sign up for alerts from the FTC and subscribe to well-informed sites like Scambusters and local media, as well as following local law enforcement on social media sites.
There are many more safety precautions that you'll discover by monitoring scam activities. And if you have even the slightest suspicion you could be on the receiving end of a trick, or you know someone who is a potential victim, talk immediately to someone you trust -- friends, family, law enforcement, etc.
As it happens, the week beginning February 28 is National Consumer Protection Week, when you'll be able to learn more about scams, including imposter fraud. For more on this, see Get Ready for NCPW 2021!
Alert of the Week
Being stuck at home more often and for longer than usual has become a feature of everyday life for many. And many are turning to TV subscription services to help fill their time.
But that can be expensive. So, it's tempting to fall for a promo offering reduced initial rates or even short-term free viewing.
But check out that offer carefully. Currently, a scam is making the rounds claiming to offer Netflix free for a year. It's a thinly veiled attempt to steal personal and financial information.
Whenever you see an offer like this, visit the genuine site of the supposed service (e.g. netflix.com) and check it from there.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!