A short time ago, ID theft was the biggest scam out there. No longer.
According to experts, the newest and biggest form of fraud are impostors.
People claiming to be IRS agents or tech support agents or with the billing department of your power company. They’re trying to soak you for cash and sometimes, it works.
The Federal Trade Commission tallies up the frequency and type of consumer complaints received each year and in 2016, there were more then 3 million complaints of impostors. The top gripe is still debt collection at 28 percent of all complaints, CBS News reports, but most of those complaints involve aggressive collection practices and not fraud.
In the fraud department, impostors lead the list for the first time since the feds started keeping records in 1997. Not all consumers report all their losses – understandable embarrassment – but of those who do, they total $744.5 million or a whipping $1,124 per person.
“We are very troubled by the impostor scams both because of the growth and because the many involve [crooks] using the names of government agencies to get money out of people,” said Monica Vaca, acting associate director in the Division of Consumer Response and Operations at the Federal Trade Commission.
The FTC said it’s trying to hunt down these criminals through law enforcement and to educate consumers about the warning signs to prevent victims from losing more money.
So here are some of the biggest scams and how to spot them:
Agents call you or email you or even text message you and tell you that you owe money. They threaten legal action and tell you to send payment by money order or cashier’s check or prepaid debit card. This is a scam for one reason: The IRS will always first contact you by mail and they never insist on payments by cashiers checks or credit card payments. They also never threaten you with arrest or jail time if you don’t pay immediately.
Tech Support Scams:
This is where you receive a call from someone who claims to be a Microsoft or Apple tech support agent who has detected a problem with your computer. They urge you to visit a site or do something with your computer to give them control over your computer and “fix” whatever is wrong.
Or you get a popup window on your screen telling you your computer isn’t secure and you must download software immediately off of the internet.
These are total scams. Real tech support departments don’t call you out of the blue, nor can they detect problems you haven’t reported. And while you may need security software, you don’t get it from a popup ad. Most computers less than five years old have security software that just needs to be regularly updated.
With 37 percent of fraud victims 60 or older, senior citizens are a ripe target for fraudsters. One common tactic is the phone call from someone who claims to be a grandchild and that they’re in trouble and need cash wired to them or someone ASAP. Never take this at face value unless you’re 100 percent sure it’s a relative. A quick call back to the grandchild or another family member could clear this up.
Online Romance Scams:
If you’ve ever signed up for a dating site, you’re a prime target for this scam. The other person claims to be the person of your dreams and tries to strike up a romance. They tell you they would love to meet you in person, but are stuck somewhere for some reason that can only be solved with some quick cash. Of course, when they get the cash, they’ll always want more.
You can tell this is a scam when someone you’ve never met claims to fall madly in love with you.
Outside of romance scams, which are initiated and often pursued completely online, some 77 percent of impostors approach their victims via phone, federal officials say. One way to thwart these attempts is to let unknown callers go to your answering machine. Con artists rarely leave a message. You can also use services like Nomorobo or Hiya to block so-called robo-calls — machine-dialed calls that crooks typically use.
Additionally, the type of payment you’re asked to provide can also serve as a warning. Government officials said 58 percent of victims said they paid via wire transfer in 2016. Prepaid debit cards are also popular with scammers because these payments are untraceable and impossible to reverse. If you paid a crook by credit card, on the other hand, you can dispute the charge and likely get your money back.