The data is in! NCL's Fraud Center has released the Top 10 scams of 2011, and bogus prizes and sweepstakes have bumped fake check scams to take the #1 spot. Also on the rise, and a concern for advocates, is that scammers posing as loved ones and preying on victims' emotions, like the Grandfather Scam we've reported on in recent months, are on the rise.
Another significant finding is that scammers appear to have targeted their scams at particular age groups more than ever in 2011. For example, complaints involving bogus prizes, sweepstakes, and free gifts made up 26.98 percent of complaints overall. However, among consumers ages 56-65 and above 65, these types of complaints made up 40.96 percent and 60.12 percent of the total, respectively. Similarly, fake check scams made up 26.65 percent of complaints overall. Among consumers age 18-25, fake check scam complaints made up 45.74 percent of the total.
Top 10 scams of 2011:
- Prizes, sweepstakes and fake free gifts
- Fake check scams
- Internet scams for general merchandise
- Phishing and spoofing
- Advance fee loans and "credit arrangers"
- Scholarships and grants
- Friendship and sweetheart swindles
- Nigerian money offers (not prizes)
- Family or friend imposters
- Fraudulent Internet auctions
New to the Top Ten Scams list this year is the Family/Friend Imposter Scam, the 9th-most frequently reporter type of fraud. In response to a rash of complaints, NCL’s Fraud Center began tracking this fraud (also known as the “Grandparent Scam”) in 2011. In these scams, a con artist typically poses as a relative in distress or someone claiming to represent the relative (such as a lawyer or law enforcement agent). The scammer frantically describes an emergency situation in which they have found themselves (such as being arrested, in an auto accident, in need of a lawyer, etc.) and asks the victim to send money for bail, lawyer’s fees, hospital bills, or other expenses. The victim is urged not to tell anyone, such as the parent of the “grandchild” because they do not want them to find out about the trouble they've gotten themselves into.
“Scam artists will stop at nothing to defraud consumers,” said John Breyault, NCL Vice President of Public Policy, Telecommunications and Fraud. “The scary part about these scams is that they prey on our natural inclination to want to help a loved one who is in distress.”
According to the consumer group, the majority of money lost was sent via wire transfer, a popular payment method among scammers because of the difficulty to track – and particularly devastating to consumers because of the improbability of recovering lost funds. Consumers should be wary of any offer that requires wiring of money, said NCL.
The report, which is compiled from consumer complaints submitted to NCL’s Fraud Center, examined trends in Internet and telemarketing fraud in 2011.
“Fraudulent telemarketers and Web-based scammers are hardened criminals out to take their victims’ life savings,” said NCL Executive Director Sally Greenberg. “The best way for consumers to fight back is to get educated and not be afraid to report such fraud to law enforcement. Scammers know all too well that their victims are often embarrassed and count on this to continue to perpetrate their crimes.”