Top Scams of 2015

Older woman dealing with scammers on phoneAs 2015 closes, it’s the same old story: another 750 documented data breaches — roughly the same as in 2014, but this year involving records of at least 178 million Americans (up from 160 million). And, of course, scammers are working the phones as usual.

“No matter the call — and our clientele is still inundated with telemarketing calls — the way people are targeted for scams is the same … with intimidation, fear and/or immediacy,” notes Amy Nofziger of AARP Foundation, who manages our Fraud Watch Network Helpline (877-908-3360 toll-free). “It’s always, ‘You have to do it now!’”

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It’s the cornerstone strategy of most scams.

Breaches may grab headlines, but what really hits home are the most reported scams, which means something — considering that only about 1 in 10 older victims ever come forward, usually because of embarrassment.

In 2015, the Fraud Watch Network Helpline fielded some 15,000 phone calls; other reports flooded our website. The year’s top scams, nearly mirroring 2014’s list:

IRS Impostors. Generating twice as many calls to our Helpline as the next most reported scheme, along with 24 percent of all reports to the Better Business Bureau’s Scam Tracker, it remains the nation’s biggest scam: phone calls from fraudsters posing as IRS agents who threaten arrest, deportation or seizure of property or businesses unless immediate payment is made for alleged back taxes. Recently, bogus mailings and faxes have been added. But the real IRS doesn’t call out of the blue or demand immediate payment, especially by prepaid debit card or wire transfer.

Tech Support Scam. These impostors claim to be from Microsoft and other tech companies and lie about a supposed computer virus. “We average 10 to 15 victims a day,” says Nofziger. By year’s end, some 3.3 million Americans will have paid an estimated $1.5 billion to these fraudsters for bogus “tech support” — in the process also giving these scammers remote access to their computer files and passwords for possible identity theft.

Foreign Lotteries. What to know: You can’t win some faraway lottery you didn’t enter. If you ever win a legitimate lottery (say, those sanctioned by your state), you never have to pay taxes, processing fees or anything else upfront to collect. And that received “partial payment” check is counterfeit; you’re on the hook for funds drawn from its deposit. Plus, realize that it’s on you to notify the state lottery commission, with winning ticket in hand. “You win!” phone calls, letters or emails are scams.

Sweepstakes. Different type of contest, but same instructions and outcome: You’re told you need to pay in order to collect your prize — be it cash or merchandise. But the bounty never comes. The reigning (and classic) ruse aims for upfront taxes and fees under the guise of winning Publishers Clearing House, whose big prize was awarded last February. Incidentally, odds of winning it are 1 in 1.3 billion.

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Grandparents Scam. What ignites more fear — and sense of urgency — than a desperate call from a loved one in trouble? But it’s not grandchildren or other relatives calling; it’s scammers who glean names and family details online or simply let you fill in holes with generic greetings (“Hi, it’s your favorite grandchild and I need help!”) These frightening phone calls, often at night, swindle some 10,000 grandparents each year.

For information about other scams, sign up for the Fraud Watch Network. You’ll receive free email alerts with tips and resources to help you spot and avoid identity theft and fraud, and gain access to a network of experts, law enforcement and people in your community who will keep you up to date on the latest scams in your area.

Photo: svetikd/iStock

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