- Fraud Events Increase Exponentially
- Fraud Responsible for $3.3 Billion in Losses
- Most Common Scams
- Imposter Scams
- Credit Card Fraud
- Identity Theft
Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigations (FBI) and the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) shows that fraud and scams have quickly become the most significant threat when it comes to theft.
Fraud Events Increase Exponentially
Larceny-theft was once the leading cause for concern. However, fraud has quickly grown in the past ten years to be the most concerning form of theft in the U.S.
Data from the Federal Bureau of Investigation's (FBI) Crime Data Explorer and the Federal Trade Commission's (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Reports shows that fraud and scams have the highest growth rate, increasing by 45% in 2020 (previously the average growth was just under 10% per year).
The graph above is based on crime reports the FBI receives from thousands of law enforcement agencies across the U.S. However, it's worthy to note that not all agencies report their crime information. To get a more accurate view of the crime committed in the U.S., the FBI releases yearly reports with their estimates, taking into account the agencies that do not share their information.
These numbers are significantly higher than those actually reported. However, they show the same result: fraud has had the most considerable growth. (Note: The FBI is yet to release its report for 2020.)
Looking at the yearly crime trend as estimated by the FBI (which may be a more accurate reading), fraud is likely to surpass the number of larceny-theft events in 2021 and 2022 for the first time.
Fraud Responsible for $3.3 Billion in Losses
Fraud and scams in 2020 resulted in $3.3 billion in losses for consumers—a number that surpasses the losses from burglaries in 2019 ($3 billion).
The majority of people lost up to $1,000, but, terrifyingly, there were almost 40,000 reports of people losing more than $10,000 from a single fraud event.
Fraud Surpasses the Total Amount Lost to Burglaries
Fraud has now surpassed burglaries in terms of total dollars lost each year to these crimes.
Most Common Scams
The most common types of scams to be reported in 2020 were:
- Imposter scams: 28,640 reports
- Government or benefits fraud (identity theft): 23,847 reports
- Credit bureaus, information furnished, and report users (other): 11,554
- Credit card fraud (identity theft): 11,418
- Other identity theft: 8,545
- Online shopping: 8,223
- Banks and lenders (other): 8,024
- Debt collection (other): 7,670
- Bank fraud (identity theft): 7,178
- Employment/tax-related (identity theft): 5,458
Most scams in the U.S. involve someone impersonating a legitimate person, business, or government agency, such as:
- A relative
- The Social Security Administration (SSA)
- The Publishers Clearing House
- The Internal Service Revenue (IRS)
- The FBI
- Someone buying or selling an item online
These scammers will pretend to be someone else to build trust and trick you into handing over money or your information. In addition, they'll often use fear tactics to get you to act quickly.
Signs of Imposter Scams
- Getting an unsolicited call from a government agency.
- The IRS and the SSA will not call you to inform you of issues with your accounts.
- A request for payment via unconventional methods (e.g., gift card, MoneyGram).
- Messages (emails, text messages, letters) with spelling and grammatical errors.
- A relative or friend contacts you asking for money but won't call you on the phone or video chat.
- Emails from a brand or government agency that uses a strange email address.
- The use of threats to have you pay money quickly.
How to Protect Yourself from Imposter Scams
- Don't send money to people you don't know until you verify they are who they say they are.
- Don't ever send payment via gift card or other unconventional methods.
- Don't pay any fees for something that should be free (e.g., a prize).
- Don't click on any links in emails or text messages if you can't verify the email is legitimate.
- When receiving a call from a government agency or business, hang up and call them back on the legitimate phone number found on their official website.
- Don't open attachments in emails that you can't verify.
- Don't ever give anyone remote access to your devices.
- Don't provide any sensitive information to anyone you can't verify.
Credit Card Fraud
There are several different types of credit card scams to be careful of. The most common involve:
- Lost or stolen debit/credit cards
- Card skimming devices
- Stolen credit/debit card numbers
- Credit card application fraud
Signs of Credit Card Fraud
- Seeing fraudulent transactions on your bank statement.
- Receiving a fraud alert from your bank or credit union.
- Receiving a credit card bill for an account you don't have (a sign of credit card application fraud).
- An unauthorized credit pulls on your credit report by a bank.
How to Protect Yourself from Credit Card Fraud
- Keep your credit/debit card information to yourself (don't write the number down anywhere or save it to your devices).
- Don't save your card information to e-commerce sites.
- Check ATMs and gas station pumps for card skimming devices.
- Use contactless pay whenever possible (e.g., Apple Pay, Google Pay, touch pay with your card).
- Never share your credit/debit card information with people you don't know.
- Shield your PIN when using an ATM.
- Regularly monitor your bank statements, looking for unauthorized transactions.
- Take the necessary actions to recover from credit card fraud and stop the scammer from stealing more money.
Identity theft is perhaps the most serious type of fraud that can lead to loss of money and take years to recover from. Not only can identity thieves gain access to your accounts, such as your bank accounts and emails, but they can also apply for credit cards, loans, and other lines of credit under your name. This can leave you thousands and thousands of dollars in debt.
Signs of Identity Theft
- Receiving bills or statements for accounts you are unaware of or didn't apply for.
- Unauthorized activity on your credit report.
- Not being able to access your accounts.
- Getting denied on credit application when you have a good credit score.
- One of your utilities is canceled (e.g., your phone or electricity).
- Receiving calls from debt collectors.
- Issues with your tax return (e.g., owing tax on unemployment benefits that you never claimed or received).
How to Protect Yourself from Identity Theft
- Do not share your Social Security number (SSN) with anyone unless you can verify they are legitimate (and they need their SSN).
- Monitor your credit report and bank account statements regularly.
- Use strong and unique passwords for all of your online accounts.
- Don't share your sensitive information with anyone who contacts you unsolicited over the phone, via text, or by email.
- Don't enter your information on any website unless you can verify it's legitimate.