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2021: The Year in Scams

As 2021 draws to a close, we look back on a year in which COVID continued to be a major player in our daily lives. And the scammers, as always, were ready to pounce, deploying not only new scams, but adapting tried-and-true scams to the unsettled times.


As the pandemic has evolved over the course of 2021, the scams associated with it have evolved as well.

  • Bogus “post-vaccine” surveys — An email or text message containing a link to a post-vaccine survey promises free rewards if you click the link and provide payment information to cover a small fee. (Don’t click links.)

  • COVID-19 funeral expense support scams — A particularly heinous scam emerged this year after the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) set up a program to offer funds to help with COVID-related funeral expenses. Scammers impersonating FEMA contact individuals offering to help them register for the program — for a small fee, of course. (Government agencies don’t operate this way.)

  • Unemployment compensation scams — A massive wave of identity fraud occurred in the form of criminals using stolen identities to file for unemployment compensation. The victim typically found out only when they received a letter confirming their benefits, or received a tax form indicating they had received unemployment.  (For help recovering from identity fraud, go to

Gift Card Payment Scams

Gift cards are popular and convenient … and not just for gifts. Over the course of 2021, we have seen explosive growth in gift cards being used as a form of payment in scams.

  • A target gets an urgent call from (fill in here … Social Security, the IRS, your utility company, a tech support company, for example) claiming a pressing issue needs immediate attention. Convinced of the story, the target agrees to the form of payment requested to address the problem. They go to a specific store, pick up a specific gift card or cards, and load a specific amount of money on them. Then the target, as directed, shares the numbers off the back to pay for the alleged obligation.

  • Once the criminal has the card information, they are able to drain the value of the card within minutes.

  • Anytime anyone seeks payment for anything with a gift card, it is a scam. Full stop.  Click here to learn more about gift card payment scams.

Amazon Impostor Scams

Impostor scams are on the rise, and in 2021 impostors posing as Amazon have been among the most common.

  • The target receives a phone call alerting them of a suspicious charge on their Amazon account.

  • If the target engages, the ploy could be anything from getting payment information, login credentials to their Amazon account, or even to convince the target to allow them to have remote access to their computer to “solve” an alleged problem.

  • Know that Amazon will never ask you to disclose sensitive personal information or your login credentials.  If you have an Amazon account, access it online or via your app to check for any problems; if you don’t have an Amazon account, you have nothing to worry about.

When it comes to fraud, vigilance is our number one weapon. You have the power to protect yourself and your loved ones from scams. Please share this alert with friends and family.

Knowledge gives you power over scams. The AARP Fraud Watch Network equips you with reliable, up-to-date insights and connects you to our free fraud helpline so you can better protect yourself and loved ones. We also advocate at the state, federal and local levels to enact policy changes that protect consumers and enforce laws.

P.S. Are you active on social media? Do you enjoy sharing information that can help friends and family to spot and avoid scams? Become a volunteer AARP Fraud Watch Network (FWN) Digital Fraud Fighter! Interested? Send us a note at for more information.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.