Top ten scams of 2019

Each year, the National Consumers League analyzes the thousands of complaints received at Fraud.org from consumers and releases it to the public, in order to track trends in scams and to use as an educational tool for fraud prevention.

Read a PDF version of the report.

Phishing and spoofing scams are on the rise

In 2019, the percentage of total complaints Fraud.org received about scams involving phishing or spoofing nearly tripled versus the previous year. We attribute this increase, in particular, to the high number of imposter scam calls that consumers reported receiving. Scammers reportedly impersonated government agencies such as the IRS, FBI, and USCIS, and some scammers even claimed to be representatives of the National Consumers League. While we saw increases in such scams perpetrated over the Internet, the biggest jump occurred in scams where the victims were contacted via the phone.

Romance scams and friendship swindles continued to devastate victims.

The percentage of complaints involving romance scams increased by nearly 50 percent versus 2018. This is especially worrisome considering that romance scams tend to be among the most expensive type of fraud for victims.

The Web remains wild.

While the telephone was the method of first contact used by scammers in nearly a third of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019, the Internet remains the most likely place for complainants to have encountered a scammer. Almost 45 percent of complaints to Fraud.org in 2019 said that they first encountered a scammer on the Web.

Wire transfer is no longer the top way that scammers ask to be paid.

After many years of wire transfer being the payment method of choice by scammers, credit cards bumped wire transfers as the most frequently-reported method of payment in 2019. More than 44 percent of complainants to Fraud.org reported that their loss occurred because a scammer charged their credit card.

Meet the scams: The worst of 2019

Internet: General Merchandise Sales (not auctions)
Goods purchased are either never delivered or misrepresented 

Phishing/Spoofing
Emails pretending to be from a well-known source ask consumers to enter or confirm personal information

Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
Requests for payment to claim fictitious prizes, lottery winnings, or gifts

Fake Check Scams
Consumers paid with phony checks for work or for items they’re trying to sell and instructed to wire money back to buyer

Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
False promises of business or personal loans, even if credit is bad, for a fee upfront

Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
Con artist nurtures an online relationship, builds trust, and convinces victim to send money

Recovery/Refund Companies
Scammers contact victims and claim the consumer owes money on a fictitious debt or offers to recover money lost in a previous scam

Computers: Equipment and Software
Scammers claim to offer “technical support” for computer problems and charge a fee to fix a nonexistent problem

Investments
Investment opportunities in: day trading; gold and gems; art; rare coins; other investment products; reports about companies that offer advice or seminars on investments; etc.

Family and Friend Imposters
Scammer calls or emails, claiming that a friend or family member is in distress (in jail, in the hospital, etc.) and urgently needs funds to help

The bottom line

Regardless of the type of scam, many instances of fraud can be avoided by remembering the old rule of thumb: If something seems too good to be true—it probably is. 

If you ever do have questions about a potential fraud or think you might be a victim of a scam, report it immediately via Fraud.org’s secure online complaint form. Embarrassment or fear of friends and relatives finding out about the crime causes many victims of fraud to remain silent. Only by speaking out can we give law enforcement the tools they need to bring these criminals to justice.

About this report

Fraud.org’s Top Ten Scams report is compiled annually from complaints received directly from consumers. We do not attempt to verify the authenticity of these complaints, nor do they represent a scientific sample. To get more information on these scams or report suspected fraud, please visit Fraud.org

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