Consumers reported losing a record-breaking $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021 for a 70 percent year-over-year increase, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) said in a new report.
The losses stemmed from a variety of schemes. The largest number hinged on impostors: crooks who stole money from people by posing as romantic interests, government employees, relatives in distress, tech-support experts or others, such as representatives of businesses or charities.
There were almost 1 million impostor scams among the nearly 2.8 million frauds reported in 2021 to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network.
Impostor fraud losses skyrocketed to $2.3 billion in 2021, up from $1.2 billion in 2020.
The Consumer Sentinel Network takes reports from law enforcement, consumer-protection agencies and partners including AARP’s Fraud Watch Network. The reports fall into three buckets: fraud; identity theft; and other consumer complaints that run the gamut from defective appliances to predatory lending.
Other top frauds
Zeroing in on other frauds, the FTC said that after impostor scams, the top four most common complaints received involved online shopping; prizes, sweepstakes and lotteries; internet services; and business and job opportunities.
Consumers reported about $392 million in losses from online shopping in 2021, up from $246 million a year earlier.
When consumers who reported fraud — regardless of whether they suffered a financial hit — indicated how they were contacted, most often they said it was by phone. Fraudsters also used, in descending order: texts; emails; websites or apps; social media sites; other unspecified methods; the mail; and online ads or pop-ups. The takeaway for consumers is to never let your guard down, however a stranger reaches out.
Criminals crave cryptocurrency
How did victims hand over funds to fraudsters? The largest losses involved bank transfers or payments ($756 million) from victims’ accounts, though cryptocurrency was not far behind ($750 million). After those two methods, the biggest losses involved wire transfers from entities such as Western Union and MoneyGram, gift cards or reload cards, and cash.
Other report highlights:
- Identity theft remains a massive problem, with nearly 1.4 million reports last year.
- About 1 in 4 consumers who reported fraud said they lost money, with a median loss of $500.
- The amount of money lost was higher for consumers age 60-plus than for younger adults. People in their 60s had a median loss of $516; those in their 70s, a median loss of $800; and those in their 80s, $1,500.
- Certain types of fraud triggered bigger losses. Investment-related frauds had a median loss of $3,000. Foreign money offers and counterfeit check scams had a median loss of $2,000; for business and job opportunity fraud, it was $1,991.
- Washington, D.C., residents on a per-capita basis submitted the highest number of reports when two buckets — fraud and other consumer complaints — were combined. There were 1,701 reports for every 100,000 Washington residents.
- Next highest were 10 states: Georgia (1,421 for every 100,000 residents); Maryland (1,415); Delaware (1,410); Nevada (1,407); Florida (1,370); Alabama (1,217); Pennsylvania (1,205); Louisiana (1,193); Tennessee (1,157); and Alaska (1,156).
- The top 10 locations for reports of identity theft were Rhode Island (2,857 for every 100,000 residents); Kansas (1,355); Illinois (924); Louisiana (732); Georgia (618); Nevada (584); Colorado (583); Washington, D.C. (577); New York (563); and Delaware (560).
The FTC shares reports it receives with federal, state, local and international law enforcement professionals. While the FTC does not intervene in individual complaints, its Consumer Sentinel Network reports are a “vital part of the agency’s law enforcement mission” as it tries to halt illegal behavior and, when possible, obtain refunds for consumers, the agency said.
The new report has more details on complaints and dollars lost last year and examines how metropolitan areas rank based on complaints per capita.