Scamtown, U.S.A: Chronicles of Fraud

In the wake of the pandemic, scammers have evolved with the times to spuriously enter the world of online dating, student loan relief, pandemic assistance, and technical support, all in an attempt to defraud unassuming victims. 

Checking email or answering the phone can put many Americans at risk of cyber attacks. It is a nationwide problem that has only been exacerbated since the onset of the pandemic. 

According to the FBI's Internet Crime Report, there have been 2.76 million complaints of fraud in the past five years. Those complaints have resulted in $18.7 billion in losses. 

A Drawer Full of Scams 

For general manager Ryan Parnow, avoiding scams is just a part of doing business. 

“I have a collection of checks in my office from attempted scams,” he told us. Parnow manages Clearly Clean Window Washing in Coralville, Iowa, and he has been dodging the same scam for years. The scammer starts by asking for a quote, but as Parnow points out, the quote is always for a house listed for sale on Zillow. 

After he provides the quote, the scammers claim to be out of town and enlist Parnow to manage the painter, flooring installer, and furniture delivery. They send him a check for the costs of his work, plus extra money to pay for these alleged additional services. 

One scammer — working under the alias Julius Elliot — even tasked Parnow with sending money to his children. “I got a call a few days ago from my kids that they lost their nanny,” explained Elliot. “Due to my current situation, I will need your help because currently, they don't have access to online banking,” he said. Under this agreement, Elliot would send Parnow $8600, of which $5400 would be for the children, $3000 as a down payment for the window washing, and $200 for Parnow's time. 

Parnow keeps all these checks “just for fun.” While he is savvy enough not to fall for scams, unsuspecting victims across the country have been less than lucky. 

Which States Have The Most Scammers?

The Federal Trade Commission recently released data on which states have experienced the most impostor scams. 

Maryland leads the country as the most scammed state, with 639.7 reports per million people. The other states with the most impostor scams are Alaska (628.2 per million), Oregon (602), Delaware (584.9), and Washington (583.3). 

Impostors can come in many forms. The FBI has been tracking a recent influx of scammers who impersonate service technicians and representatives for student loan forgiveness. 

“Criminals pose as service representatives of a company's technical or computer repair service and contact victims through email or by telephone about a highly-priced, soon-to-renew subscription,” says the FBI. These impostors solicit personal and banking information that they then use to defraud victims, most of whom fall within the elderly population. 

Since the announcement of the Student Loan Debt Relief Plan, the FBI has issued a warning to beware of fraudulent websites, texts, and emails targeting those eligible for loan forgiveness. 

The FBI offers some tips to protect yourself from cybercriminals. Be on the lookout for any grammatical mistakes, false processing fees, and unverified email addresses or websites. 

Fraud & Duplicity 

Scams adapt to our changing culture, which is why romance and crypto scams have recently become popular among fraudsters. 

Romance scams have increased by 197% since March 2020. Similarly, scams involving cryptocurrency have spiked in popularity. The FBI received 34,202 complaints related to crypto, such as Bitcoin, Ethereum, Litecoin, and Ripple. In 2020, fraud cases resulted in over $246 million in losses. By 2021 that number had increased to more than $1.6 billion. 

FBI agents are not immune to impersonators themselves. The FBI field office in Sacramento warns against scammers who pretend to be FBI agents calling to inform you of a crime you've committed. Acting Special Agent in Charge Dennis Guertin had this to say: “The public should not be afraid to hang up on an alleged agent. An authentic FBI agent will find other ways to contact you if necessary.”

What Can You Do?

“It's important to be aware of common red flags so you can more easily spot a scam, such as unsolicited prompts to update your information, “free” giveaways, messages or attachments from unfamiliar sources, sources that are misspelled, and time pressure,” says Emma McGowan. 

McGowan is the Online Privacy Expert and Senior Writer for Avast, a privacy and security company. They recently surveyed the country and learned that 75% of Americans had been targeted by an online scam. 

“Don't click on any links without verifying a source,” cautions McGowan. She advises everyone to ensure their phones are locked. Additionally, McGowan recommends setting up multi-factor authentication on any account that offers this feature. A high-quality Virtual Private Network (VPN) is also worth looking into. “VPNs encrypt any communication between your phone and the network it's connecting to, making them a great way to protect your data even when it's not directly on your phone,” she says. 

Scams might not be on the decline, but potential victims can use these tips and tricks to better arm themselves against a potential attack, protecting their data, privacy, and finances from fraudsters. 

This article was produced and syndicated by Wealth of Geeks.

News Contributor | + posts

Justin McDevitt is a playwright and essayist from New York City. His latest play HAUNT ME had its first public reading at Theater for the New City in September. He is a contributor for RUE MORGUE where he lends a queer eye to horror cinema in his column STAB ME GENTLY.