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The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers. Whether it is issuing warnings and recalls about dangerous products, policing companies for misleading advertising or helping write regulations in regards to harmful products, the FTC is certainly the unsung hero that protects all of us on a daily basis.

The FTC has another crucial job, it is the go-to department for reporting scams, fraud, and other related crimes. As such, the FTC keeps tabs on the types of consumer reports that are filed each year and releases this comprehensive information in its annual report from the Consumer Sentinel Network.

The 2018 report has been released with a shocking new finding: for the first time since the FTC began tabulating and reporting the complaints, imposter scams topped the list of most commonly reported consumer fraud.

An imposter scam occurs when a criminal uses a false identity or persona to trap you. It might be someone pretending to be a Microsoft employee, a Google ad salesman, someone from your bank or credit company, an IRS agent, or a customer service representative from your utility company, just to name a few examples. Using this false persona, the criminal alerts you to some plausible reason why you must pay money or face a consequence of some kind.

For obvious reasons involving threats of jail time and significant penalties, government imposter scams are commonplace. Scams involving phony IRS or Social Security agents made up about half of the 535,417 imposter scam attempts that were reported to the FTC last year. The thought of a fraudulent charge on your credit can make some scam victims comply with a banking imposter scam, but thinking that they have broken the law with regards to their taxes is far scarier.

What is interesting about the increase in government imposter scams is that it is branching out from the norm. IRS scams were commonplace for a long time, as a caller would contact you and claim you have failed to pay your taxes. Now, Social Security imposters contact potential victims and frighten them into thinking their SSN has been suspended or their benefits will not be issued that month unless they verify their identities.

In either case, the goal is money or information. If a scammer can convince you to pay or provide your personally identifiable information, then they can cash in. Sometimes the scammer even manages to acquire both a payment and your data, which will then be used for identity theft.

Unfortunately, as the number of complaint reports to the FTC increased, so did the number of losses that victims reported. With nearly three million different consumer reports made to the FTC last year, the total amount of loss was $1.48 billion, a 38 percent increase compared to the previous year.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft

National Grandparents’ Day, proclaimed a holiday by President Jimmy Carter in 1978, falls each year on the Sunday after Labor Day. Thanks to the tireless work of one grassroots organizer—a woman who was also a driving force in legislation that protects and supports the elderly—this holiday is a time focus on one another and on the important contributions that grandparents make in the lives of the family.

And what better present could you give than to spare your relatives the headache and heartache of falling victim to a scam? Some scams, frauds and identity theft crimes specifically target senior citizens, so Grandparents’ Day is the perfect time to spread the news.

1. Grandparent Scam – This crime is actually called a “grandparent scam” because back before cell phones were a widespread device, senior citizens were often targeted. They were believed to have no way to verify whether this was a scam or not. Now, the scam has evolved to target anyone, but grandparents are still high on the list of potential victims.

In a grandparent scam, the victim receives a phone call that says a friend or loved one (as in, a grandchild) is in some kind of trouble and needs help. Stories over the years have included someone who was in the hospital, had been arrested, was stranded with car trouble or even had been kidnapped, and the only way to help was to send money.

2. Medicare/Healthcare Scams – Our aging population is thankfully living longer, and that has meant changes to programs like Medicare. With every new change—such as the recent issuance of new Medicare cards that no longer contain the holder’s Social Security number or the enrollment in various add-on plans—scammers attempt to steal money and identifying information from Medicare users.

It can be hard to spot a Medicare scam, especially if the caller already knows some information about you. To fight back, you have to develop a habit of never giving out your sensitive information to someone who contacts you. If there’s any doubt about your coverage or your plan, take the caller’s information and hang up. Then, using a verified phone number for your local administration, contact the Medicare office and find out what’s going on.

3. Tech Support Scams – As older adults join the digital revolution, more seniors are enjoying things like smartphones, laptops and tablets, social media and many other connected resources. Scammers assume that these “digital newcomers” might be naïve enough to fall for a technology-related scam, so seniors are prime targets for tech support scams.

A tech support scam occurs when someone contacts you by phone, email, text message or even a popup box on your computer and tells you that your computer is infected with a virus. They offer to clean out the virus for a fee, but actually steal your money while installing a virus on your computer. The virus will root around and find out your account information, login credentials and more. Remember, software companies do not sit at workstations and monitor your computer; anyone who tells you otherwise is lying.

4. Untraceable Payment Scam – There is one major unifying factor in scams that steal your money: the scammers don’t want to get caught, so they rely on untraceable, non-returnable forms of payment. If you’re ever told that you owe money for an unpaid parking ticket, a court fine, back taxes to the IRS or any other bill that must be paid with a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card, wire transfer or similar method, it’s a scam!

Any entity that you legitimately owe money to will accept your personal check, your credit card, or even cash; in rare exceptions, something like a parking ticket or court fee might have to be paid by cashier’s check, but also that will have a traceable number on it. Never make a payment to someone who claims the only accepted form are those listed above.

5. Romance Scams – There’s a perception that senior citizens might be lonely—after all, it’s what the creator of Grandparents’ Day was working to prevent—and scammers are counting on that. The frightening thing about romance scams is that they work too well and can impact any age.

However, there’s one unique thing about senior adults that makes them an especially hot target: the fear that they will lose their independence. Not only have some older victims of romance scams opted not to report the crime to anyone, some have even continued to pay their scammers after suspecting something wasn’t right. Make a firm decision to never give money to someone you only know online and never involve yourself in their crime, such as cashing a check for them.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.

Read next: The Harm in Hoaxes on Social Media

Tech support scams have infiltrated Apple mobile devices.

Who Is It Targeting: Apple device users

What Is It: Phishing email that lures you into calling “Apple Care” for phony tech support

What Are They After: Tech support scams certainly aren’t new, but the way they manifest has been evolving to keep up with the latest consumer products. A new scam tries to convince you that your Apple ID has been compromised; when you click the link in the email from your phone, it even tells you that your Apple account has been locked due to fraudulent activity. When you call the phone number—which pops up in a very Apple-looking “call or cancel” box—you’re directed to give the tech support person access to the mobile device. From there, the individual installs malware that steals money from your associated accounts or online bill pay.

How Can You Avoid It:

  • If you receive a warning message, don’t click or call!
  • Instead, exit out of the message and go directly to that account yourself.
  • Look around, and contact support if you still think there might be something wrong.

If you think you may be a victim of identity theft, contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. Find more information about current scams and alerts here.

Read next: Top Scams of the Year


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.