The Most Common Scams of 2017Every year, the Federal Trade Commission, or FTC, puts out a report on consumers’ biggest complaints from the previous year, using data gathered from feedback sent in by everyday Americans. The report, officially titled the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book, pays special attention to the most common scams Americans are dealing with, analyzing them by state, comparing numbers to previous years and compiling how much total money they cause victims to lose. So you don’t have to dig through the data, we’ve taken some of the most interesting information from the report and summarized it below. If you’re interested in learning about common scams you might face, as well as how to avoid them, keep reading.

Debt collection tops the list for most complaints

For the past several years, debt collection has reigned as the No. 1 source for consumer complaints to the FTC, and this year is no different. Twenty-three percent of all consumer complaints in 2017 involved debt collection, beating out the next-highest category by 9%. Now, this doesn’t necessarily mean that bogus debt collection is the most common scam in America, as people can submit complaints about more than just scams, such as debt collectors calling at improper hours or using threatening language. However, fraudulent debt collection is definitely a widespread issue, as a 2016 report from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau shows that the most common complaint about debt collection was regarding attempts to collect debt that consumers claim they do not owe.

If you receive an unexpected debt collection notice, remember that some debt collectors try to collect debt that they have no legal entitlement to, whether it’s because the debt is expired, discharged as part of a bankruptcy or even paid in full. Other supposed debt collectors can be outright scammers, making up debts based on personal information about you they’ve uncovered and then threatening you for payment. Either way, the best way to protect yourself from debt collection scams is to know your rights when dealing with debt collectors, which include limits on when debt collectors may contact you, a requirement for the debt collector to send a written notice to you after making first contact and the ability to dispute your debt within 30 days of first contact with a debt verification letter.

The most common scams: identity theft and imposter scams

In 2017, the FTC received 1.1 million fraud reports, with 20% of the people reporting fraud also saying they lost money to it. Consumers reported a median loss of $429, and total losses added up to $905 million. Of those fraud reports, the single largest source of complaints was for imposter scams, with various forms of identity theft following behind. The imposter scam category consists of a number of common scams that involve fraudsters pretending to be someone they aren’t, such as an IRS official, tech support or a family member in trouble, to trick people into giving out personal information or sending money. While you might think that most imposter scams would happen over email, the majority of reports were for scams conducted over the phone, and the most common request from the scammers was for the victims to send money via wire transfer. This form of payment (wire transfers) is favored among scammers because it is often irreversible, and can be difficult to trace if sent internationally to a money transfer service such as Western Union. Keep in mind that the government will never ask for people to wire money to pay a fee or collect some kind of refund or winnings, and it is illegal for telemarketers to ask you to pay by wire transfer.

For identity theft, the most prevalent type was credit card fraud, which was up 23% compared to 2016 and caused a total of $74 million in losses. It’s very possible victims could have prevented or recovered some of those losses if they knew their rights around disputing fraudulent credit card charges, such as the liability protection against unauthorized use of your credit card granted by the Fair Credit Billing Act. On the bright side, reports of tax scams were down a whopping 46% compared to the previous year, although they were still reported 63,000 times, meaning they’re still relatively common scams.

Young people lose money to fraud more often than seniors

The FTC’s report also included national age statistics, comparing fraud across different age groups. One of the most surprising findings of this comparison is that young people lose money to fraud at a much higher rate than any other age group. While only 18% of consumers age 70 and up reported losing money to fraud, 40% of consumers age 20 to 29 reported losing money. This may be due to younger people using social media more often, where scammers can use ad targeting tools to find victims easily, or possibly inexperience at avoiding scams compared to older people. However, while young people fell victim to scams more often than other age groups, seniors age 70 and up lost more money to scams on average. Consumers age 20 to 29 only lost a median of $400 to each scam, but consumers age 70 to 79 lost $621 per scam, and consumers age 80 and up lost a massive $1,092 per scam.

Military consumers also reported losing more money to fraud, with the median loss for military consumers sitting almost $200 higher than the median loss for civilians. This is despite military consumers being better at avoiding scams, with only 15% of military fraud reporters claiming to have lost money to them compared to 20% of civilian fraud reporters.

Looking at statistics can give you an idea of what to watch out for, and help prepare you for common scams you haven’t encountered yet. If you’re curious what the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book has to say about scams in your state or county, the report does a really good job of visualizing the data, and you can read the whole thing for free. To learn more about avoiding fraud, follow our scams blog.