Last year saw a 70% increase in scams in the U.S. and more than $5.8 billion was stolen, according to the Federal Trade Commission.
And scammers are scamming this year, too. The credit report bureau TransUnion, reports that 38% of Americans have been targeted by digital fraud so far in 2022.
Scams are on the rise, but we’ve got tips to help you identify scams and ultimately, avoid them.
Who Gets Scammed?
You might assume senior citizens are most likely to be a victim, but people of all ages are vulnerable. Scammers rely on both hope and fear to get money out of you. Many scams are geared toward identity theft.
Federal Trade Commission data shows people aged 30-39 have been scammed the most so far this year. Almost one out of every 10 in that age group reported scams, losing an average of $600. They were most frequently contacted via social media, and they lost money through cryptocurrency scams and online shopping scams.
Second-most scammed are people aged 20-29, who have lost an average of $550 this year, often through money app and debit card scams.
Seniors are not defrauded at the same rates, but they lose higher average amounts of money, between $1,000 and $1,800 on average. Seniors over 70 reported getting phone call scams and lost money through gift card scams, online shopping scams and tech support scams.
Children can be victims of identity theft, too. Scammers use their social security number to open credit card accounts, rent homes and more. The Federal Trade Commission has great information on how to prevent child identity theft.
Too Good to be True
Scammers will text, email, call, and mail you misleading information, offering something that sounds too good to be true. It is. Here are ten of the most common scams.
Phishing is when someone poses as a reputable company to get your personal information. They might pretend they are from an official government organization, your bank, or a business you have dealt with before. They will ask you for your bank account number, social security number, passwords and other information that legitimate companies never ask for.
Another common phishing fraud is telling people they won money. An example sent via email:
We Notice that Your $𝟐𝟓,𝟎𝟎𝟎.𝟎𝟎 Settlement Check Has arrived Confirm Now by 10/11/2022 – Due to your involvement in a class action or injury lawsuit, a settlement payment may have just came in at the following webpage. Go there now to accept what is reserved in your name.
Don’t do it! People don’t notice you getting settlement checks, they just want to steal your financial information. Sweepstakes scams are done the same way.
This is one of the crueler scams. These fraudsters call to say a family member is in trouble, or pretend they’re a relative and need money desperately. This scam often targets older people, with information gathered from social media posts. They swear the victim to secrecy, and put pressure on them to send money immediately. Red flag!
A scammer will call to say that your power, gas or water will be turned off immediately if you don’t pay the balance. They will direct you to go somewhere with cash, or do a wire transfer — methods that can’t be traced — to pay the bill. Small businesses are often the targets of these types of scams. Always call your utility company in these cases before taking any action.
IRS or Other United States Government Agencies
You get a phone call telling you to send money to the IRS or Social Security immediately or you will be jailed. That is a lie. However you feel about the IRS, they can’t just jail you. Be extra suspicious if they offer to let you pay with gift cards, cash or a wire transfer.
Money App Scams
Scammers will pretend they are contacting you from Venmo, Zelle, Paypal, Cash App or another payment app, telling you that they need to reconnect your bank account or credit card. They might send you to a website that looks legitimate. These scams affect up to 6% of money app users, usually younger people. Never give information to anyone on the phone, and always go to the official websites to check information.
Tech Support Scams
A scary pop-up on your computer or a message on your phone tells you to contact your tech company immediately through links they send. Or they might warn you that they have to scan your device remotely. Don’t allow either — it is highly unlikely that a tech company will contact you that way, and they would never ask for money remotely.
Natural Disaster Scams
Scammers target people at their most vulnerable times. After a hurricane, flood or fire, they might seem like they are helpers. They could claim to be from an insurance company, FEMA, or another government agency and ask you for personal information to get FEMA money, and then pay to have it expedited. This isn’t how it works.
People of all ages get suckered by shopping scams. It might be an email that seems like it’s from a known retailer. Here’s one sent via email:
To show our gratitude to our loyal customer we made rewards for them. If you received this email, that mean that you’ve been selected to be rewarded. Take 30 seconds to complete the steps and confirm your reward. Reward: iPhone 14 Pro
The phone is “free,” but there’s a catch: You have to give your credit card information to pay taxes.
These are some of the most common shopping scams. They might offer gift cards, trips, discounts and other temptations to get information on your financial accounts. Look for an increase in these types of scams in advance of the holiday season.
These are pretty well known scams. A Nigerian Prince wants to give you money, or they won a foreign lottery but need your help collecting it. It’s simple: Just pay the fees and you get the money.
In some cases, a scammer sends cashier’s checks for you to deposit and return a portion, but they turn out to be counterfeit checks. By then you are out the money you returned and could be charged with intent to commit fraud.
It seems extra terrible to rip people off by playing with their hearts. These scammers will create fake profiles that flatter the person and then eventually ask for money. They may make a profile alleging they have an intimate video, and threaten to reveal it unless you ante up. There are also fake dating sites that gather your financial and personal information. Often victims are too embarrassed to reveal that they were targets of fraud.
How to Prevent Getting Scammed
There are many other scams, including employment, mortgage and student loan payments, debt relief, home repair and more. If something sounds amazingly beneficial, do your homework first. There are always warning signs.
Scammers want specific information from you. They want your financial information, account numbers, sensitive information like passwords, birthdates, social security numbers or a credit card number. Businesses and government agencies have secure websites for these types of information.
Don’t ever give sensitive information to a website that doesn’t have an https in its URL. Check the URL to make sure it is really the correct website, and not a fake but similar looking one. Never share PINs or passwords, and don’t use the same password for all your logins.
Scammers also use time to pressure you to do something, so you won’t have a chance to research them or think about what they are offering.
A reputable company will never ask you to send money by wire transfers, cash or gift cards. Nor will they ask you to have your tax refund sent to them.
What to Do if You Have Been Scammed
The first thing to do is report scams to both local law enforcement and to the Federal Trade Commission Fraud Report. Some people might be hesitant to report scams. A 2020 European Union report showed that 79% of people suffered emotionally or physically from fraud, and 24% suffered financially.
Change your passwords if you think a scammer obtained them. Contact your bank if your debit card was used or your account information was given out. Contact your credit card company if something was charged to your card. If you sent a wire transfer or used a gift card, contact those companies as well.
If you were scammed online, check your computer with antivirus software for malicious software or malware. You can contact a credit report company to make sure your rating isn’t affected.
Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
How Do I Identify a Scam?
Be suspicious if someone is asking for your social security number, bank accounts, passwords, etc., and if they want you to pay with cash, wire transfers, or gift cards.
What Types of Scams Are There?
Identity theft, phishing, online shopping, banking, tech support and many more.
Who Is a Likely Target of a Scam?
People in their 30s report scams most frequently.
You can try working with the banks and companies to get your money back, but it’s not always guaranteed.
The Penny Hoarder contributor JoEllen Schilke writes on lifestyle and culture topics. She is the former owner of a coffee shop in St.Petersburg, Florida, and has hosted an arts show on WMNF community radio for nearly 30 years.