According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost over $5 billion dollars in 2021 to scams. That’s a staggering 70% increase over 2020. While consumers of all ages fall victims of scams, most victims are over the age of 65. And the older the victim, the more money that victim will likely lose.
Common Scams Targeting Americans
In this video, we’re going to talk about some of the most common scams that are robbing Americans blind, and how you can avoid being the next victim.
- Government ImpersonationThese scams involve sending a lot of robocalls with a recording message that says your Social Security Number has been compromised; or that you owe a large amount of money for unpaid taxes. Those who stay on the line long enough to speak to an agent are commonly informed that a warrant has been issued for their arrest unless they make an immediate payment.The IRS warns that anyone threatening to ‘suspend or cancel your Social Security Number’ is a scam. This is a tactic scammers use to cause panic in their victims. If you receive this kind of call, hang-up immediately.
- Utility ScamsThis scam begins with a phone call informing customers that their utility bill is overdue, and service will be disconnected unless an immediate payment is made. What makes this scam more disturbing is that scammers will ‘spoof’ the official number for the utility company, deceiving victims into thinking the call is official.A recent adaptation of this scam is where the caller claims you’ve made an overpayment and ask for your banking or credit card numbers to ‘refund’ that money.
Never make a payment or share banking information with any caller who claims to be employed by a utility. If you receive one of these calls, immediately hang-up. Find the official number for the utility and call them. Explain that you received a call from somebody claiming to be from their company.
- Refund ScamsYou may have received an email or phone call that says you’re about to be charged for a large purchase and if you hadn’t authorized the purchase to click a link or call a number. These scammers pretend to be companies like Amazon, Norton, or a ‘past computer support provider’.If you were to contact these scammers, they will ask for remote access to your computer to ‘initiate a refund’ and attempt to trick you into thinking that they’ve given you a lot more than they were supposed to and ask you to ‘return it to them’.
No legitimate company will need remote access to your computer to give you a refund. Never click links or call the phone number in these emails.
- Advance Fee ScamsThis category includes both online and in-person scams. Examples of online advance fee scams include making a deposit on a pet, lottery scams, fake inheritance, and foreign bank credit scams. Each of these scams involve sending money to secure your pet, winnings, inheritance, or credit line, only to never hear from them again.If you’ve been promised a large amount of money if you send a ‘payment’, it’s a scam.In-person advance fee scams are frequently associated with home improvement and storm damage repair after a severe weather event. These contractors insist on being paid the full, or substantial amount up-front. After these payments are received, work never begins, or the project isn’t completed.
To protect yourself from these scams, always do your research on the business before signing a contract or making any payments. Search the name of the business on Google and look for reviews. If a business doesn’t have any reviews, or isn’t local to your area, you should be cautious.
- Emergency ScamsImagine answering your phone to hear the voice of somebody claiming to be your grandchild, and they need your help. As terrifying as that sounds, it really happens. This sick and twisted scam is a form of social engineering where a scammer uses social media to learn the names of your family members and scam you.These scammers may be able to answer some basic questions, such as other family member’s’ names. If you receive one of these calls and aren’t sure if it’s a scam, ask the caller a question that only your family member could answer. If they can’t answer that question, you’re being scammed.
Tips to Protect Yourself from Scams
- Never Click Links in Suspicious EmailsIt can be difficult to identify when an email isn’t legitimate. If you aren’t 100% certain that an email is from the organization they’re representing, do not click any links and do not call any phone numbers displayed. Instead, go directly to the company’s website and access your account.
- Never Give Someone Remote Access to Your ComputerNo legitimate company will need remote access to your computer to issue a refund or make a payment. Even if you realize you’re being scammed before sending money, the scammer could steal the contents of your computer or change the password, making it impossible for you to log back in.
- Never Pay with Gift CardsScammers often prefer gift cards as payment because once you give them the code on the card, the money is gone. If the person on the phone tells you to purchase gift cads as payment, hang-up immediately, it’s a scam. Legitimate companies will never ask you to purchase gift cards as a payment method.
- Never Lie to A Cashier or Bank TellerBank employees and cashiers are trained to identify circumstances where someone is about to fall victim to a scam. If the person on the phone is telling you to lie about the reason your withdrawing money or buying large amounts of gift cards, hang-up immediately because you’re being scammed.
- Be Cautious of Work At Home OpportunitiesMost of the scammers targeting Americans are located outside the United States but they need people located in the country to help get the money. Scammers often recruit Americans using social media posts about work from home opportunities.While some opportunities are legitimate, some are not. If the job is to receive or pickup packages and then send them to somebody else or require you to send and receive money from your bank account, it is a scam.
What to Do If You Become The Victim of A Scam
Being the victim of a scam can be embarrassing but you’re not alone. If you have been the victim of a scam, the first thing you’ll need to do is contact your banks to secure your accounts, and the credit bureaus to put a freeze on your credit. You should also change the password on your online banking account.
Next, reach out to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Consumer protection office in your state to report the fraud. You can find the contact information for your local office here.
If you granted remote access to a scammer, turn your computer off immediately and contact a professional. The programs scammers use for remote access will allow them to continue accessing your computer until they are uninstalled. You will also want to run a comprehensive virus scan on your computer in cast the scammer installed any viruses or malware.
Will You Get Your Money Back?
Few victims get their money back. While there is a chance that you could recover your losses, it will depend on if the money is found before it leaves the United States. This is why cashiers and bank employees are trained to recognize scams and fraud, to help warn you of scams before you lose money.
- New Data Shows FTC Received 2.8 Million Fraud Reports from Consumers in 2021, Federal Trade Commission, published February 22, 2022 at https://www.ftc.gov/news-events/news/press-releases/2022/02/new-data-shows-ftc-received-28-million-fraud-reports-consumers-2021-0
- How To Protect Yourself From Utility Scams, AARP at https://www.aarp.org/money/scams-fraud/info-2019/utility.html
- Common Scams and Frauds, USAGov, at https://www.usa.gov/common-scams-frauds