It’s National Consumer Protection Week, and there’s never been a better time to brush up on your scam IQ. To help, we’ve released our annual Top Ten Scams report, based on thousands of complaints submitted by real consumers like you to Fraud.org last year.
Each year, we monitor and analyze the complaints to track trends in scams and how con artists are tweaking their pitch to succeed at finding new victims. Our data helps us identify emerging scams we’d never heard of, what scams are fading into the sunset, and new twists on old classics.
So without further ado, here are the most reported scams from 2019 and, just as important, tips on how to spot and avoid them so that you don’t become a statistic on next year’s report …
1. Internet merchandise scams
The set-up: Scammers offer cut-rate merchandise on the Internet in the hopes that consumers looking for a deal will buy.
How to avoid it: Buy from reputable sellers. If the price for an item is well below the price offered on e-commerce sites like Amazon, there’s a good chance it’s a scam, particularly if the merchandise is electronics, luxury apparel, or medications.
The set-up: Scammers use legitimate-looking emails or spoofed Caller ID to get consumers to think they’re getting an email or phone call from the government, their bank or another entity. Once the scammer has the victim convinced they’re someone they’re not, they threaten them to get money or sensitive personal information.
How to avoid it: If someone you don’t know calls you on the phone or sends a threatening email demanding quick payment, it’s likely a scam. Delete the email or hang up the phone.
3. Fake prizes, sweepstakes, or free gifts
The set-up: The scammer contacts you to let you know you’ve won a big prize. All you must do to collect is pay them a fee for “insurance,” “taxes,” “processing” or some other reason.
How to avoid it: The prize doesn’t exist. They’re just after your money. If someone asks you to pay money to win money, it’s a scam.
4. Fake check scams
The set-up: Someone you’ve never met in person sends you a check and asks you to deposit it into your personal bank account. Then they ask you to send them some or all the proceeds from the check via wire transfer, by buying a gift card, or some other method.
How to avoid it: Don’t deposit the check and definitely don’t send money based on funds that may appear available if you deposit it. The bank will catch on, and you’ll potentially be left owing the bank for the negative balance.
5. Advance fee loans, credit arrangers
The set-up: Scammers offer a “guaranteed” credit card or bank loan to consumers looking for cash. All the victim needs to do is pay an up-front fee to obtain the loan.
How to avoid it: Only look for loans or credit cards from reputable lenders. If a lender offers you a “guaranteed” credit card or loan without a credit check, it’s probably a scam.
Marc has 36 years in financial services and 6 years in teaching.
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