Fake lotteries, grandparent con trick climb annual scams list: Internet Scambusters #524
A couple of surprises showed up in our annual top scams list during 2012 but there were plenty of familiar con tricks there too.
While phishing and identity theft held on to their top slot, lottery tricks and grandparent scams aimed at older folk were the major movers.
Our forecast for 2013 suggests they'll be strong contenders again, while Internet sales scams will also become even more prevalent, as we explain in this week's issue.
And now for the main feature...
Top 10 Scams List for 2012 and 2013
With scams costing Americans, and consumers globally, billions of dollars every year, we turn our attention to the annual Scambusters Top Scams List.
Looking back on our Top 10 scams for 2012, we were pretty near the mark, with just one important omission: the huge growth in imposter crime.
These comprise mainly tricksters posing as a relative or employee in trouble, asking for money to be wired to help them.
As has become the trend, seniors, as grandparents, were the key target for this crime.
They were also in the scammers' line of fire for several other con tricks, notably prize and lottery scams.
So, before we get on to our predictions for 2013, here's a quick rundown of the 2012 Top 10 scams, with our original predictions in parentheses.
(One point to note: several categories overlap each other. For instance, skimming -- using devices to read debit and credit card details -- can also be a component of identity theft. We've done our best to avoid "double counting.")
10. Skimming and ATM theft, using devices (forecast as #5). Although still a major crime, this category was swamped by other scams -- plus, as mentioned above, we moved some of these incidents into the identify theft category.
9. "Hit-and-run" scams (#9). This is our "money for nothing" category that includes bogus contractors and charity collectors -- people who take our money and are never seen again. Disaster incidents, notably Hurricane Sandy, are usually the focus for this crime, though the crooks can turn up on any doorstep.
8. Economy-related scams (#8). Mainly loan modification schemes, plus bogus job scams.
7. Investment scams (#7). Some new tricks appeared -- we'll be taking a closer look at these within the next month.
6. Imposter/grandparent scams. As mentioned, not included in our original forecast but now a major source of scams, especially targeting older folk.
5. Nigerian and advance fee scams (#4). They're still at it but again we moved some of the incidents into other categories.
Even so, we're including a much wider range of scams than we had in the past, including, for example, bogus online romances, in which the victim is tricked into paying supposed airfares and other "expenses" for their "date" to come meet them.
4. Lottery scams (#6). This made a stronger than expected showing despite efforts to clamp down on crooks in Jamaica -- the main source of these scams.
Once again, seniors and other vulnerable groups were targeted, often by phone and regular mail, rather than online.
3. Internet sales (#3). This category includes phony auctions, Craigslist scams and bogus retail websites.
2. Malware (#2). According to one estimate, from security firm Kindsight, one in every eight PCs is or has been infected.
Mostly, these take the form of bogus anti-virus alerts, spyware and programs that corral machines into a hidden, illicit network used for spamming.
1. Phishing and identity theft (#1). This crime reigns supreme because it arises from many other scams, like skimming, malware, and hit-and-run crimes.
It's also a major technique for harvesting email addresses for spam.
Bubbling under: We originally had vacation and travel scams as #10. Although it was edged out, we still saw plenty of evidence of this crime.
Also notable: Extortion threats were increasingly common. These crimes ranged from untrue claims of kidnapping, to crooks posing as law enforcement, accusing victims of some sort of crime and demanding an instant "fine" payment.
Top 10 Scams List for 2013
Turning to 2013, we don't expect any change in the top slot of our chart but we do expect a stronger showing from lottery/prize scams, with crooks becoming increasingly clever at tricking victims.
Again, we'll be taking a closer look at the latest lottery scam tricks in a forthcoming issue.
We also think it's possible that if the economy continues its recovery struggle, we could see more crime in this category.
For now, here's our prediction for the 2013 Top 10 scams list:
1. Phishing and identity theft -- driven by the continuing growth in social media usage and hacking incidents targeting corporate databases.
2. Lottery/sweepstakes/bogus prizes. This is the top source of consumer complaints according to the National Consumer League.
Seniors are the main target, often refusing to accept they're being scammed. An aging population profile can only make this worse.
3. Bogus Internet sales. Record levels of online shopping during the holiday season show that this will continue to be an attractive scam target.
4. Malware. We think this could fall back a couple of places as users become more savvy and systems more secure. Even so, it'll still be a leading source of scams.
5. Hit-and-run. Crooks like this crime because it's pretty simple to put together a scam that preys on people's emotions and exploits their vulnerability.
It also seems to offer an endless variety of opportunities, especially as disasters unfold.
6. Economy-related scams. Much depends on how/if the economy recovers. If it doesn't, we forecast these crimes will move up a couple of places compared with 2012.
Mortgage and other loan modification schemes will likely be the main culprits unless the economy worsens.
7. Imposter/grandparent scams. We're hoping that increasing publicity for these nasty tricks might push them down a notch from 2012, but we still expect them to be a big problem.
8. Advance fee scams. These are related to many other types of scams including spam arising from identity theft.
There seems to be an increase in the small-fee type of trick -- where victims are asked to pay perhaps $100 to receive a package or refund of a large sum of money.
We've moved it down a couple of places because some of these scams have now been included in other categories.
9. Investment scams. Expect low interest rates to continue to tempt investors to fall for schemes offering higher returns.
Big fluctuations in the gold market, underpinned by worries about the economy, will make this a key target for scams.
10. Dating/sweetheart scams. We decided to make this a separate category because of the growth in online dating.
Increasing divorce rates from middle age onwards and the ease of seeking a new partner via the Internet for older age groups could make it a more significant source of scams. It's an outside bet.
That's our crystal ball gazing for 2013.
It's always possible, of course, that a new or unforeseen crime will surge to the fore as we move through the year.
Count on Scambusters to add it to our scams list, and deliver the breaking news along with the practical advice you need to avoid becoming a victim.
Time to close today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!