Online purchase scams top the BBB list of 2017 consumer fraud


Mouse trap with dollars to depict online scams

Online purchase scams are now the riskiest form of consumer fraud, according to a new fraud report from the Better Business Bureau, jumping from #4 in 2016 to #1 in 2017. BBB says that online scams were most frequently related to pets, clothing, cosmetics, electronics, and automobiles. Free trials involving cosmetics or nutritional products were also common.

BBB’s top 10 scams of 2017 were:

1. Online purchase scam (up from #4 in 2016)
2. Investment scam (up from #6 in 2016)
3. Employment scam (no change)
4. Advance fee loan scam (up from #5 in 2016)
5. Fake check scam (down from #2 in 2016)
6. Home improvement scam (down from #1 in 2016)
7. Tech support scam (up from #8 in 2016)
8. Travel/vacation scam (new to top 10, #12 in 2016)
9. Family/friend emergency scam (no change)
10. Government grant scam (new to top 10, #11 in 2016)

This BBB chart shows the most common means of scammer contact. (See more charts from the report.)

One bit of good news is that although the number of reported incidents increased, the percentage of consumers who actually lost money fell from 18.8% to 15.8%, so maybe users are getting smarter about scams. One other interesting observation in the report is that young people are more susceptible to scams than older folks, but although susceptibility decreases with age, the dollar cost of the scam goes up with age.

To avoid scams, be on high alert for unconsolidated emails and phone calls. Some common tactics to trick you include:

• Deals that are too good to be true
• High pressure tactics
• Urgency – you must decide now; offer is expiring; etc.
• Threats or intimidation – you”re under investigation, you will be arrested if you don’t act now
• Isolation – trying to force a decision before you talk it over with someone else

To learn more about any of the top 10 scams of 2017, download a full copy of the 2017 BBB Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report: New Trends in Scam Risk. Also, follow BBB’s scam tips to stay up-to-date on emerging threats.

A rogue’s gallery of insurance fraudsters, 2016 style


Insurance fraud is a crime that we all pay for in the form of higher premiums for our home, auto and business insurance. However, 10% of the population still thinks that “insurance fraud doesn’t hurt anyone.” Nothing could be further from the truth! According to the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, fraud steals about $80 billion a year across all lines of insurance. Yikes. And for some people, the cost is much higher than dollars and cents – if you are unlucky enough to be one of the victims of these criminals, you could lose your identity, your good credit, your life savings, or even your life.

Every year, the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud issues lists a rogue’s gallery of the worst, most egregious insurance criminals from the prior year. Recently, they named 8 criminals to the 2016 Insurance Fraud Hall of Shame. One of the purposes in publicizing the list is to educate and alert you, the consumer, about the scope and type of fraud crimes that are out there.

Here’s a sneak preview of some of their crimes to give you an idea of the severity – you can read the full stories of their crimes from the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud site.

  • Neighborhood blows up in botched insurance arson
  • Epic crash ring braked after $279-million whiplash spree
  • Lawless libido traps cheater in partner-swap comp romp
  • Oh deer! Mob associate uses deer parts to stage car wrecks
  • Samaritan scammer shotguns legs to steal disability insurance
  • Dad murders infant for $750,000 of life-insurance money
  • Bedridden girl starves to death while nurse shops
  • Doctor peddles $60 million of unneeded drugs to poor people

Reporting insurance fraud

One way to combat this type of crime is to report it. Here are some ways to do that.

 

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Imposter fraud and debt collection scams top the list of 2016 fraud reports


This week is Consumer Protection Week – but honestly, consumers should be on their guard about potential scams and fraud every single week of the year. In 2016, people who reported fraud to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) paid $744 million to scammers – with a median payment of $450. Those are only the reported cases – many people are embarrassed to admit that they fell for a scam. Experts put scam crimes more on the order of $30 to $40 billion a year.

In looking at the top fraud in 2016, the FTC said that of those who specified how they were contacted by scammers, 77% said it was by telephone, with only 8% contacted by email and 3% by traditional mail. That tells you to be alert for suspicious calls.

Also notable in 2016, the FTC reports that for the first time, imposter scams passed identity theft for the number of complaints, and debt collection was the top complaint for the second year in a row.

Imposter scams are scammers who pretend to be someone else: the IRS, debt collectors, tech support – the FTC has posted examples of different types of imposter scams that have been reported.

Why are people susceptible to fraud?

Scammers are masters of human nature and prey on our weaknesses. They appeal to fear by posing as the IRS, debt collectors or other authorities, making harsh threats and you-must-act-now demands. They exploit our hopes of winning or getting something for free or for an incredible price. They take advantage of naive computer users with popups, phishing scams, unsafe apps or links and social media targeting.

In What Makes People Fall for Online Fraud? Rick Paulas reports on an AARP survey about risk factors involved with falling for Internet scams.

” … there’s a correlation between fraud victims and the activities people perform online. For instance, those willing to post their birth dates or relationship status on social media are 8 percent more likely to be victims of online fraud than those who keep mum. Those who sign up for free trial offers are 10 percent more likely to get swindled. People who click on pop-ups are 16 percent more likely. “Victims tend to be more open,” Shadel says. “But people wise up. They realize you shouldn’t be clicking on every pop-up you get.””

The article 10 Types of People Who Fall for Scams, Schemes and Cons by Marilyn Lewis says that:

Victims include older people, yes, but also younger ones. Educated and undereducated. White-collar and blue-collar. Dumb people and smart ones. The Stanford study says:

An emerging conclusion in profiling research is that there is no generalized profile of a “typical” victim. Profiling studies that analyze victims by type of scam, however, have yielded a clearer picture of scam-specific profiles. In other words, while everyone is vulnerable, some people may be more vulnerable to particular scams than others.

The article is very interesting, examining various demographic groups and what type of scam is likely to be most successful for that group. For example white men are the most likely victims of investment fraud; lonely people are more susceptible to dating fraud.

Even relatively sophisticated and alert people can let their guard down and fall for a scam. One way to keep suspicion high is to periodically review the FTC Scan Alerts to learn the latest scams that are circulating. It’s also important to report fraud should yo be come a victim. That is how the authorities catch criminals and alert others about new schemes.

Crime alert: more on card skimming fraud


card skimming fraud

Card skimming fraud is a type of fraud that uses devices to read your credit card and steal your pin or password. It’s a type of theft that frequently happens at ATM machines, but it also is common at gas stations and any place that you swipe the magnetic strip of a credit or debit card. The latest scene of the crime are self-checkout stations in supermarkets.

The problem is that data on your credit card is stored in magnetic strip on the back of your card and the magnetic strip is not encrypted. Cheap devices are readily available to scan that data. Devices used to be large and unwieldy, but have become increasingly smaller and cheaper. These devices can be cleverly disguised and affixed to retail outlets that read your cards. They can also be used anyplace your card is scanned.

To foil card skimming fraud, new cards contain chips with encrypted data so those cards are safer in theory. We say “in theory” because it’s an enormous undertaking for banks, gas stations and retailers to replace the card reader stations and convert to chip-enabled card readers, so many still rely on reading magnetic strips. As long as your credit cards have a magnetic strip, they are still insecure.

This ABC News video clip is about 8 minutes long  –  a good investment for a quick education about what skimming is, how to spot it and steps to take to prevent it.

Here are skimming fraud prevention tips we’ve gleaned from the experts over the years.

  • Use well lit, well-trafficked ATMS and gas stations with security cameras; go inside banks; be particularly careful at freestanding ATMs.
  • When using an ATM or paying at the gas pump, check for anything unusual and be alert for any devices that may be affixed. Look for anything that protrudes from or seems affixed to the machine, any color differences, any unusual stickers. Look for nearby mirrors, pamphlet holders, speakers, or devices that could house a camera.
  • Always cover the keypad with your hand to shield from any cameras that may be trying to record your PIN. It’s also a good idea to touch several keys with your fingers to thwart anyone trying to grab your pin via infrared heat detector readers.
  • Don’t let anyone “help you” at an ATM or credit card reader.
  • When paying at a restaurant or any retail outlet, don’t let anyone walk away with your card, have them read the card in your presence so that they don’t harvest your information with a small pocket-skimmer.
  • Check your bank account regularly to ensure funds have not been taken.
  • If you spot anything suspicious at an ATM or a  self-service gas or grocery kiosk, alert the business or the police right away.

Fraud alert: Thieves are trying to steal your medical identity!


medical id theftYou’re no doubt aware of the dangers of identity theft, but have you heard of medical identity theft? It appears that thieves are not only eager to steal your personal information to make purchases, intercept your tax returns, open accounts or commit crimes, they’d also like to pose as you to get expensive medical services. It’s a serious, growing crime that can put your financial and physical health at risk. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) describes medical identity theft this way:

A thief may use your name or health insurance numbers to see a doctor, get prescription drugs, file claims with your insurance provider, or get other care. If the thief’s health information is mixed with yours, your treatment, insurance and payment records, and credit report may be affected.

Consumer Reports offers a good article on The Rise of Medical Identity Theft, noting that there were an estimated 2.3 million cases identified in 2014. They explain that it’s a crime that can go well beyond financial repercussions:

But there’s another, far more dangerous problem with medical identity theft: The thief’s own medical treatment, history, and diagnoses can get mixed up with your own electronic health records—potentially tainting and complicating your care for years to come. And that isn’t a hypothetical problem.

“About 20 percent of victims have told us that they got the wrong diagnosis or treatment, or that their care was delayed because there was confusion about what was true in their records due to the identity theft,” says Ann Patterson, a senior vice president of the Medical Identity Fraud Alliance (MIFA), a group of several dozen healthcare organizations and businesses working to reduce the crime and its negative effects.

Scary, right? Even scarier is that the thieves may be in your house right now! Consumer Reports notes that medical identity theft is sometimes called “friendly fraud” because it’s often perpetrated by family members. They cite a study by the Poneman Institute in which 47% of the respondents said the theft was perpetrated by a relative or someone else they knew, while only 10% was attributed to a data breach and 12% due to having been tricked into providing personal information.

Like identity theft, anyone can be a victim, but two groups are at particularly high risk:

  • The elderly, who may be more susceptible to scams
  • Children, whose health and financial records may not be guarded as carefully they should be

What can you do to protect yourself against this type of theft? Here’s a good place to start. Consumer Reports offers 10 Ways to Guard Against Medical Identity Theft. As with anything else, half the battle is awareness. Understanding the danger and taking basic precautions can help. Here are some other good medical identity theft resources: