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  • Impostor Scams Now Costing Americans $328 Million a Year

    Americans are losing more money to impostors than to any other fraud, according to a recently published report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).

    Scammers pretending to be a friend, relative, police, tax official, tech support, or any one of many other phony roles are now taking more than $328 million out of our pockets every year.

    Last year alone the FTC took 350,000 reports of impostors. And it's likely the true number is much higher since some crime reports never reach the FTC and, in other cases, victims are too embarrassed to report the crime at all.

    In total, the agency received 2.7 million complaints from the American public, mostly relating to impostors, debt collection scams, and identity theft -- and the total "take" for the criminals for all reported scams was more than $900 million.

    Among identity theft, credit card fraud took the biggest share and, says the FTC, it's a crime that continues to grow significantly.

    It's not surprising to learn that most victims were defrauded via their phone and most of them paid the scammers via a wire transfer service -- the biggest sign of a scam.

    "The FTC urges consumers to be wary of any caller asking for a wire transfer," the Commission said.

    "The government will not ask a consumer to wire money, and it is illegal for telemarketers to ask you to pay by wire. Consumers who get a suspicious call should take their time and check it out.

    "Call the government agency on a phone line you know to be real - not the phone number given by the suspicious caller."

    The median loss across all crime is $429. But individual travel scams earned the most for the crooks, netting a median loss of $1,710.

    An interesting trend, which we've reported on in the past, is the growth in the number of younger people falling victim to a scam, with more of them in the 20 to 29 age group losing money to fraud than older people over age 70.

    "However," says the Commission, "when these older adults did report losing money, the median amount lost was greater."

    Those in the 80-plus age group lost a median of more than $1,000, compared with $400 for the younger set.

    The top states for fraud were Florida, Georgia, and Nevada, although Michigan and California were among the highest states for identity theft.

    You can learn more about the FTC's latest report, which covers 2017, here:

    The Commission also has a useful page with informative videos about various types of impostor scams here:

    Robocalls Menace

    Meanwhile, another scam investigation has uncovered an alarming rise in the number of robocalls -- recorded and mainly illegal phone calls covering everything from sales messages to impostor-type threats and demands for money.

    In the first three months of 2018, consumers took 4.9 billion robocalls, with the average consumer receiving six calls a month.

    A cell phone screening company called Hiya found that spam was the largest category of all, followed by phishing and impostors calls, and then telemarketers.

    Only pre-recorded calls from charities, certain political groups and telemarketers whom you have pre-approved are legal. Most of the rest are breaking the law.

    FTC marketing practices specialist Lois Greisman was quoted by the website as saying technology changes meant scam calls could be made much more cheaply and on a larger scale than previously.

    And Margot Saunders of the National Consumer Law Center pointed to the debt collection industry as "a key driver of abusive calls that break the law, with documented cases resulting in hundreds or even thousands of calls to a person even after repeated requests to stop."

    Another consumer group, Call for Action, reported earlier this year that scams via robocalls soared in 2017.

    The organization's executive director, Ed Bartholme, told a Rhode Island TV station: "It's things like neighborhood spoofing, where it's the first three digits of your area code, the first three digits of your phone number and then they make up the last four. These are all driving scam opportunities."

    In this case, the campaigners noted that an increasing number of scammers were asking for payment with gift cards.

    "They want you to drive out to a local store, buy an iTunes card, buy an Amazon card, come back and read them the numbers," said Bartholme.

    As with the FTC, Bartholme noted that many of the scams were impostor scams, using many variations on the well-known fake grandparent and IRS back-tax calls.

    "It seems like they go back to the well and keep digging out variations on the same theme with a slightly different hook line or a slightly different back story," he added.