They say love hurts. With romance scams that’s doubly true – hearts are broken and wallets are emptied. For three years running, people have reported losing more money on romance scams than on any other fraud type identified in Sentinel.1 In 2020, reported losses to romance scams reached a record $304 million, up about 50% from 2019. For an individual, that meant a median dollar loss of $2,500. From 2016 to 2020, reported total dollar losses increased more than fourfold, and the number of reports nearly tripled.2
Gift cards make great holiday gifts. But reports to FTC show that scammers like getting them, too. Scammers don’t ask nicely, though. They use trickery to insist on gift cards, and they ask for specific brands. Scammers prefer gift cards because they can get quick cash while staying anonymous. In fact, giving a scammer the PIN numbers off the back of a gift card is the number one way people report losing money on many of the top frauds reported to the FTC.
When the job market is tough, scammers target people who are looking for work or trying to bring in extra income. Economic conditions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic may have created ideal conditions for these scams to proliferate. In fact, the volume of reports to the FTC about income scams reached the highest levels on record in the second quarter of 2020.1
Social media can be a great way to connect with friends while the pandemic has you keeping your distance. But reports to FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network suggest that that social media websites and apps have become popular hangouts for scammers, too. Reports that people lost money to scams that started on social media1 more than tripled in the past year, with a sharp increase in the second quarter of 2020.
Online shopping has been a lifeline for many people hunkering down to help reduce the spread of COVID-19. But as online orders have increased, so too have reports to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network about sellers failing to deliver on promises — or just failing to deliver, period. During April and May of 2020, more people reported problems with online shopping than in any other months on record. More than half said they never got the items they ordered.1
Our men and women in uniform take on unique hardships when they choose to serve. Identity theft shouldn’t be one of them. But the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database shows that active duty servicemembers file reports about many forms of identity theft – and related problems with debt collection and credit reporting – at much higher rates than non-military consumers.
People sometimes think scams mostly affect older adults, but reports to Consumer Sentinel tell a different story. People in their 20s and 30s, a cohort that roughly tracks the so-called Millennial generation, are 25% more likely to report losing money to fraud than people 40 and over generally, and much more likely to report a loss on certain types of fraud.
Pretending to be someone people trust is what scammers do. They may claim to be a well-known company or a beloved family member, but data from the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network suggest that pretending to be the government may be scammers’ favorite ruse. Since 2014, the FTC has gotten nearly 1.3 million reports about government imposters. That’s far more than any other type of fraud reported in the same timeframe. This spring, monthly reports of government imposter scams reached the highest levels we have on record.1
Claiming to be a government authority is a tried and true way that scammers trick people into sending money. Among the most common government imposters have been scammers pretending to be the IRS – until now. In the past few months, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database has seen Social Security Administration (SSA) imposter reports skyrocket while reports of IRS imposters have declined sharply. In the shady world of government imposters, the SSA scam may be the new IRS scam.
If the mere thought of your computer being hacked frightens you, you’re not alone. And tech support scammers know how to exploit that fear to their own advantage. They work to scare you into believing your computer is compromised and then offer to “fix” the problem – for a fee. The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network got nearly 143,000 reports about tech support scams in 2018.1
People looking for romance are hoping to be swept off their feet, not caught up in a scam. But tens of thousands of reports in Consumer Sentinel show that a scam is what many people find. In 2018, Sentinel had more than 21,000 reports about romance scams, and people reported losing a total of $143 million – that’s more than any other consumer fraud type identified in Sentinel.1 These reports are rising steadily. In 2015, by comparison, people filed 8,500 Sentinel reports with dollar losses of $33 million.
In 2018, the Consumer Sentinel Network has seen a striking increase in the median dollar amount that people 70 and over are saying they lost to fraud. Digging into the data, we found some common stories with an unusual twist: people 70 and older report mailing huge amounts of cash to people who pretended to be their grandchildren.