According to a 2021 survey by AARP, about 2 in 5 Black adults were targeted by an online scam and 1 in 5 lost money to one. The most common scams Blacks fell victim to were work-from-home scams, affinity investment scams, lottery scams and romance scams.
From multiple calls labeled “Scam Likely” on cell phones to suspicious emails awarding fake gift cards to social media posts promising the latest get-rich-quick scheme, scams are around every corner targeting everyone.
One report found that Americans lost nearly $30 billion to phone scams over the past year with 1 in 3 saying they fell victim. The average person lost around $500.
As 2022 rolls in, scams of all kinds are on the rise with scammers making off with billions. In one of the latest scams, New York Attorney General Letitia James issued a consumer alert last week warning New Yorkers of cyberattacks targeting consumers that use the same username and password on more than one website or app.
In these cyberattacks, known as “credential stuffing,” cybercriminals attempt to log in to online accounts using login credentials stolen from other online services. Specialized software enables attackers to generate and send tens of thousands of login attempts in quick succession.
One company reported that it witnessed more than 193 billion credential stuffing attacks in 2020 alone. An investigation earlier this month by James’ office identified more than 1.1 million online accounts compromised in credential stuffing cyberattacks on just 17 well-known companies.
“With billions of stolen credentials floating around on the internet, credential stuffing attacks have the ability to hurt both businesses and consumers,” said James. “Fortunately, consumers can help safeguard their online accounts against credential stuffing. As we work with businesses to better safeguard consumers’ private information, I encourage all New Yorkers to remain vigilant against these types of attacks and take the appropriate steps to protect their data and their wallets.”
Fresh off of the holidays, millions of Americans shopping online continue to be targets for scams. According to the FBI’s Criminal Crime Complaint Center (IC3), victims received emails advertising hot-ticket or hard to find items, fake websites and ads promoting unrealistic discounts and bargains, and online surveys designed to steal personal information.
However, the most common scams were on social media, where young people particularly fall victim. Social media posts, often appearing to have been shared by a known friend, will offer vouchers, gift cards, freebies, and contests. Users were also targeted with social media hosted ads for non-existent or counterfeit items.
In addition to losing money on a bogus purchase, unsuspecting consumers may be giving away personal information and debit or credit card details. Victims may receive nothing except a compromised identity or fraudulent card charges.
In an interview with the AmNews, co-founder and CEO of Silicon Harlem Clayton Banks said the COVID-19 pandemic is to blame for the rise in scams and victims. He says scams have risen to nearly 500% over the last 10 years. With a large workforce still working from home, and a rise in the use of “smart” devices, scammers have even more opportunities to trap their prey.
“So when you look at all of the smart devices that were starting to embrace, those devices have a lot of vulnerability, and scammers are getting very savvy, getting able to get a hold of your devices and create a whole problem and ultimately get to ransomware.”
What’s the best way to protect yourself online? Banks says one of the first things to do is to change passwords on various online accounts.
“Make your password longer,” he said. “The need to be about 10 digits or more because hackers have no desire to work hard to break you. They’d rather go to an easy password they can break then have to figure out 10 different digits. Social media is very vulnerable if you don’t have a strong password.”
As far as emails and websites are concerned, Banks says never click on anything you aren’t familiar with. Doing so can result in someone getting insistent access to your personal information.
“Don’t click it. A lot of people are walking around with FOMO (fear of missing out) but it’s not worth it. You can ruin your entire database and your entire computer. If you don’t want to delete it, find out who you can call directly or at least look it up. All they need is to be able to have access to your IP capability to control your equipment.”
Criminal justice consultant and assistant district attorney Leroy Frazer said people who do become victims of scams should inform the police; however, local law enforcement doesn’t always have the resources to investigate phone and internet scams. Many scams originate from foreign countries making it hard to arrest and charge suspects or recover lost funds.
“The mere fact that your cell phone can flash ‘scam likely’ speaks volumes because the fact of the matter is, this is a regular thing that has gone on,” Frazer said. “A lot of times it’s international and these things seem to be here to stay, so you have to be smart about it.”
Frazer told the AmNews that victims can also report scams to federal agencies like the FBI and the Federal Communications Commission. However, he said consumer education is the best way to not become a victim.
“You have to be smart enough to know that there’s no free lunch,” Frazer said. “Nobody’s going to give you anything free. There’s nothing to gain from it.”
Victims of phone scams can file a complaint with the FCC by going to consumercomplaints.fcc.gov. Online scam victims can file a complaint to IC3 by going to ic3.gov/Home/FileComplaint.