National Consumers League

Fraud trends: Bogus Internet sales remain most-reported fraud for fourth year in a row; Median reported loss to fraud doubled in 2016

February 1, 2017

Contact: NCL Communications, Cindy Hoang, cindyh@nclnet.org, (202) 207-2832

Washington, DC—The National Consumers League (NCL), the nation’s pioneering consumer advocacy organization, has released its annual compilation of the top ten scams reported to Fraud.org, NCL’s flagship project for fraud prevention and education. Based on an analysis of more than 7,000 fraud complaints submitted by consumers to Fraud.org in 2016, NCL is warning consumers to beware Internet merchandise sales scams.

For the fourth year in a row, Internet merchandise scams topped the list of complaints reported to Fraud.org. The way many consumers first come into contact with these scams is via a “too good to be true” ad on a website, social media platform or Internet forum. Popular ways scammers catch consumers’ eyes is with deep discounts on goods like iPhones, sneakers, luxury apparel, video game systems and even pets.

While the top scam didn’t change in 2016, a key measurement of how scams affect consumers did: the cost of falling victim to fraud increased significantly in 2016. In complaints where a loss was reported, the median loss was $600, double what was reported in 2015. The most expensive type of scam for victims continued to be friendship and sweetheart swindles (also known as “romance scams”), with a median loss of $2,000.

“The key to avoiding these merchandise scams is to shop around. If the price you’re being quoted is far below what reputable merchants are asking, that’s a red flag of fraud,” said John Breyault, vice president, public policy, telecommunications and fraud at the National Consumers League. “Once you hand over your credit card number or send a wire transfer to the seller of these goods, chances are that all you’ll get in return is a headache, not a sweet deal.”

Another trend observed in 2016: scammers have been turning away from wire transfer and embracing gift cards as payment method. In 2016, wire transfers and credit and debit cards remained the payment method of choice for scammers, but gift cards increased significantly as a new form of payment. In 2016, Fraud.org saw a 30 percent increase in complaints where the payment method included gift cards, including numerous complaints where scammers asked for payment via iTunes gift cards. In such instances, the victim is instructed to load funds onto a gift card and then give the code and PIN number off the back of the card to the scammer, who then quickly deducts funds from the card, leaving the consumer with worthless plastic and little recourse to obtain a refund. 

“The fight against fraud is constantly evolving, as criminals refine their tactics for separating consumers from their hard-earned cash,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “We hope our annual list of top scams helps consumers know what to watch out for and avoid falling victim, especially since falling victim for one of these scams is apparently getting more costly.”

Read the full 2016 top ten scams report.

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About the National Consumers League
The National Consumers League, founded in 1899, is America's pioneer consumer organization. Our mission is to protect and promote social and economic justice for consumers and workers in the United States and abroad. For more information, visit http://www.nclnet.org.