Inflation isn’t the only thing taking a toll on Idahoans’ wallets.
So are scammers.
Multiple reports show scams are on the rise both nationally and in the Gem State.
“Between January and Sept. 30 of this year, Idahoans have reported losing $20 million dollars to fraud,” said Rachelle Littau, consumer specialist with the Idaho Attorney General’s Consumer Protection Division. “That’s 6,700 fraud reports.”
Littau said those are just the cases that are reported. Many people are embarrassed or ashamed to report being scammed so those numbers are likely much higher.
“So far for this year the top three scam categories are imposter scams – and that’s where a scammer pretends to be somebody you know or an organization you’ve heard of before,” Littau said. “Online scams are the second highest category of scams reported this year and then third biggest category so far this year have been those ‘you’ve won’ scams – whether it’s a prize, sweepstakes, lottery, that sort of thing.”
Data from the Federal Trade Commission shows a similar trend nationwide, reporting more than 234-thousand online-related scams so far in 2022.
And according to a new report from the Better Business Bureau, online scams have risen 87% since 2015 – the year the BBB Scam Tracker Tool was launched.
“Scammers meet us where we are and a lot us are online,” said Rebecca Barr, BBB Communications Manager. “We’re shopping online, we’re applying to jobs online, we’re emailing, we’re banking online. And unfortunately scammers know that, they’re gonna cast a wide net. They know where we’re doing most of our business.”
Specifically, the top three online scams reported most often to the BBB were: third, email at 14%; online shopping was second at 24%; and social media was the most common at 25%.
“You feel comfortable on social media,” Barr explains. “You’re going through your feed, you’re seeing friends and family, and you might see an ad for a really cool product. You’re quick to make the purchase, click check out, put in your credit card information. Either the item never comes or its poor quality and now they have your credit card information.”
Littau said a big issue they see when it comes to social media are Facebook messenger scams – someone pretending to be an old friend who tries to get you to message back or open links.
Romance scams are also common. That’s where you meet someone online, typically through a dating app, and start talking to them, thinking you’re building a connection.
In reality, it’s a scammer on the other end. Because you think you’re connecting, you might let your guard down and share information you don’t even realize could be damaging.
“You might talk about your childhood and the street you grew up on, you might mention your mother’s maiden name in passing, so they might start collecting this information,” Barr said. “And now they know where you bank, they know your email address so they’re kind of building a file on you so they can then hack your identity.”
When it comes to these types of scams, the AG’s office says use caution and pay attention to red flags.
“Try to meet people in person if you can,” Littau said. “If you meet somebody online and they’re telling you, ‘Oh I can’t meet you because I’m overseas, or I can’t video chat because my computer is broken’ – whatever the excuse – that’s almost always a scam.”
While online scams are on the rise, even more prevalent right now – both in Idaho and the U.S. – are imposter scams.
The FTC reports more than half a million so far in 2022, with more than 2,200 reported in Idaho alone.
Imposters can come in all forms, pretending to be state officials, law enforcement, or a legitimate business.
“The number one organization impersonated by scammers is Amazon,” Barr said. “It might look like there’s a problem with your order, a problem with your account, you need to update your payment information, and because a lot of us are doing multiple orders a week, when you get one of these messages you might be caught off guard and fall victim to it.”
The BBB recommends that if you get an email or text like that, do not click on any links. Go directly to your Amazon account yourself and see if there’s a problem. Through Amazon’s website, you can also contact customer service.
The AG’s office says when it comes to any type of scam, education is key. And always do your research. Littau said if you’re unsure about something, their office is there to help.
“We are always happy to talk with anybody,” she said. “So if anybody ever has a question about a weird phone call or email or just anything, please reach out to us. We would love to talk through that with you. We’re pretty good at sniffing out when something is not legit.”
You can contact the Idaho Consumer Protection Division at 208-334-2424 or file a complaint online at ag.idaho.gov.
You can also check bbb.org for reviews and information on companies checked out by the BBB.