10 Top Scams of 2009 and 2010

Phishing and identity theft hold prime slot in 10 Top Scams for 2009 and 2010: Internet Scambusters #368

Our annual review of the 10 Top Scams shows phishing and identity theft continuing to hold the Number 1 slot both in 2009 and 2010.

The 2009 outturn was more or less as we expected, except for a surprisingly strong surge in message- and website-borne malware, which is likely to continue into 2010.

Also for the New Year, we anticipate more doorstep scams (which we wrote about last week) because it’s a Census year.

Now, here we go…

10 Top Scams of 2009 and 2010

With a likely global toll of more than $1 billion lost to Internet and phone scammers in 2009, it’s time to review our Top 10 scam predictions for the past year and throw forward our thinking on what’s going to change in 2010.

Our predictions, (unscientifically) confirmed by the feedback we get from the hundreds of thousands of Scambusters subscribers and visitors, official surveys and the regular news reports we scan, once again came pretty close to the mark.

Identity theft and phishing remained the biggest source of scams in 2009, with, as we predicted, a stronger-than-ever showing from economy-related scams, which came in at Number 2.

Looking to the future, we expect many of the old patterns to repeat themselves, though often using new approaches to try to catch us out.

But there’s also a growing threat that we’ve seen more and more evidence in 2009 — from the “planting” of viruses and spyware — and there’s one newcomer to our list of Top 10 scams for 2010.

Let’s take a closer look…

Here Are The Results for 2009:

10. Vacation and travel scams (Predicted as #10).

9. Auction and classified ad sites (Predicted as #9).

8. Work from home scams (Predicted as #7 but slipped slightly as awareness increased and the economy improved somewhat).

7. Investment scams (Predicted as #8, this category includes Ponzi schemes. The downfall of Bernie Madoff turned out to be just the biggest of a whole clutch of investment frauds that came to light because of the depressed stock market. And even as the market started to recover, other scammers jumped on the bandwagon with phony get-rich-quick investment schemes.).

6. Grandparent scams (Predicted as #6).

5. Lotteries (Predicted as #3 — although there were some high-profile cases in which victims lost large sums of money, greater awareness is helping to keep the lid on lottery scams.).

4. Nigerian scams (Predicted as #4).

3. Malware (viruses, Trojans and malware) (Predicted as #5, this category has climbed rapidly through the spread of botnets, the rocketing use of social media and their spread onto cell phones.).

2. Economy related scams (Predicted as #2).

Despite the slowly improving economy, foreclosure scams, phony credit repair schemes, bogus grant programs and other refinancing cons kept economy-related scams firmly lodged near the head of our list of Top 10 scams for 2009.

1. Phishing and identity theft (Predicted as #1).

Despite the valiant attempts by Internet security firms to reduce the risks of website spoofing by building anti-phishing checks into their applications, the crime continues to rise.

During 2009, we saw a massive increase in the use of “smishing” — the use of SMS messaging to send out phony texts to cell phone users claiming problems with their bank accounts and then asking them to key in PINs and other personal information, which they then used to clear out their victims’ bank accounts.

According to experts, roughly one in every 400 emails criss-crossing the globe is also a phishing attempt, usually masquerading as an official communication from the IRS, banks and other financial institutions, and well known stores.

Changes for 2010

We think economy-related scams will slip down a notch in 2010, not so much because of a decline in their incidence as because of a further massive growth in Internet- and cell phone-borne malware.

The techniques of luring people into clicking links or visiting sites that upload viruses, Trojans and spyware onto computers and cell phones is proving immensely popular among scammers because of the many different uses this malware can be put to.

Victim machines may be recruited into huge botnets (networks of “zombie” machines used to send out spam, or they may install scareware or key-logging and other “sniffer” programs that steal information for identity theft. See How to Spot and Avoid a Scareware or ID Theft Protection Scam.

We also predict the incidence of grandparent scams, in which a phone caller claims to be a grandchild needing urgent financial help, will drop out of our Top 10 Scams list for 2010.

But that’s not to say it will disappear, merely that it will be replaced by a newcomer we call doorstep scams, which we expect to show a sharp increase because of bogus 2010 Census canvassers.

Predictions for the Top 10 Scams of 2010

10. Investment scams. This is always a difficult one to predict, because a single biggie like the Madoff scheme can exert such a huge influence on the outcome. But we think the massive exposure of fraudulent schemes in 2009 will make investors a bit more wary this time around.

9. Travel and vacations. A somewhat better economy and perhaps lower airfares will see more people traveling abroad. New holiday destinations, especially in Third World countries, will bring out the scammers. Also watch for a huge blip in ticket scams, similar to that seen in the run-up to the Beijing Olympics, as the 2010 Winter Olympics and the Soccer World Cup get underway in Vancouver and South Africa respectively.

8. Auctions and classified ad scams move up one place in our Top 10 scams list. Ebayers are more wary, but more and more online auction sites are appearing. Meanwhile, as personal advertisers move away from newspapers to online, the hugely popular Craigslist continues to attract the scammers — and their victims.

7. Work from home schemes. The growth in marketing of dubious health products, often in the shape of pyramid schemes, along with the traditional types of home-working scams, plus the focus of economic recovery being on small businesses, will keep this firmly in our Top 10 scams list.

6. Doorstep scams.As mentioned above and in last week’s issue, this is the newcomer in our Top 10 scams of 2010 chart.

Principally, this will be because of the 2010 Census, which we already highlighted in Swine Flu and Census Scams Exploit Fear and Ignorance.

We also expect bogus contractors to take advantage of improving home sales with their phony repair schemes.

5. Lottery scams. The most significant trend in this crime is the increased targeting of seniors who have proved more gullible to “announcements” that they’ve won a fortune but have to pay to collect on it. This will keep lottery scams in the mid range of our 10 Top Scams list.

4. Nigerian scams. Despite the late 2009 clampdown in which the Nigerian government shut down more than 800 crooked websites, the scale and breadth of this crime keeps it high in our charts. Most common are advance fee scams and a whole range of phony purchase or sale tricks.

3. Economy related scams. Economic recovery so far has been slow and patchy. Many people still face foreclosure and other financial woes. Millions are still without jobs. And the crooks have no qualms about fleecing even the most poverty-stricken. There’ll be no let-up.

2. Malware. There are literally tens of thousands of spyware, virus and Trojan programs out there and, it seems, millions of people ready to be fooled into having them installed on their PCs and cell phones. Some even pay for the service, convinced they’re installing security programs. This is a crime that feeds on itself, as newly-infected machines continue to recruit others.

1. Phishing and identify theft. The continued success of this crime partly depends on some of the other crimes highlighted in our list of Top 10 Scams for 2010 — notably malware. There seems to be no end to the inventive cunning of scammers in finding ways to get at our critical information.


So these are our predictions for the Top 10 Scams of 2010.

But remember, this is only the Top 10. There are hundreds more types of scams out there and many of them that don’t feature in this list will still pull in hundreds of thousands of victims and millions of dollars.

As ever, we urge our readers always to be wary and skeptical in any dealings that involve their money and financial information. Don’t accept people or information at face value — always double and triple check claims and credentials.

And please keep spreading the word about Scambusters! Sadly, there will always be a list of Top 10 Scams but we can all play a part in reducing its size and its impact.

That’s it for today and this year. Wishing you a safe and very happy 2010!