Con artists have never had it so good.
Consumers reported losing $1.48 billion last year to scamsters, fraudsters and their ilk, up 38% on the previous year, according to a new report from the Federal Trade Commission. If all scams were reported to the FTC, experts say, the real number would be even higher.
The biggest losses aren’t from online identity theft. They’re from con artists calling people up and pretending to be from government agencies — such as the Internal Revenue Service or the Social Security Administration — and demanding payment or banking details. Fake debt collectors were the second most common type of scam, followed by online identity theft.
‘If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam.’
Many scam artists are successfully persuading members of the public to pay them, not by credit card or wire transfer, but by gift cards, reloadable credit cards, store cards or even iTunes
vouchers, the FTC says. Some 41,000 consumers said they’d paid con artists a total of $78 million using vouchers or plastic last year.
Geographically, Florida remains the fraud capital of America, followed by Georgia and Nevada. The FTC says it received 1,000 fraud complaints from Floridians for every 100,000 residents — three times as many as it got from the Dakotas.
“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, in a statement. “You should hang up immediately and report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.”
These “government imposter scams” accounted for a third of all the reported losses last year — and half the complaints. And 69% of them came over the phone.
In response to the FTC report, the IRS directed MarketWatch to this statement on its website: “The IRS doesn’t initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media channels to request personal or financial information,” it reads. “This includes requests for PIN numbers, passwords or similar access information for credit cards, banks or other financial accounts.”
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