A new book entitled “Scam Nation: Fighting The $257+ Billion Epidemic of American Consumer Frauds and Cons” has been published by John S. LaRosa, president of Marketdata LLC.
The book is full of interesting data and reveals how amazingly cons and scams have grown since 2000. It points to the internet and an economy with few good-paying jobs as the greatest contributing factors.
According to the publication, U.S. consumers lose a staggering amount of money every year – between $257 and $337 billion. That’s an estimate that is pretty conservative because many victims never report the crime.
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LaRosa says “most of us are under the impression that other nations, Russia, Mexico or Nigeria are the home to most scams and cons. Not so.”
Due to the number and types of scams, and the vast amount of money lost, the U.S. is the quintessential “scam nation.”
If it’s a scam, you’ll find it here. A short list: Medicare and Medicaid fraud, bogus tax returns, Ponzi schemes, romance scams, identity theft, credit repair, ATM skimmers, tech support scams, fake charities, home improvement contractors, grandparent scams, psychics and the list goes on.
The book, in part, lays blame on the internet but it also points out that those who run the cons and scams also use the phone, go door to door, as well as online methods.
A very interesting point made in the book is that some scams are legal but are scams no matter how you slice it. For example, car title loans, payday loans, multilevel marketing, credit repair and rent-to-own stores. The book claims they are scams because they prey on the uneducated and minorities, charging them exorbitant interest rates and fees or requiring payment for things consumers can do themselves for free.
People often ask what’s being done about this. Law enforcement agencies are continuously working to catch the bad guys. However, they are understaffed and outnumbered.
So, we have to be our first line of defense:
• Block unwanted calls and text messages. Take steps to block unwanted calls and to filter unwanted text messages.
• Don’t give your personal or financial information in response to a request that you didn’t expect. Legitimate organizations won’t call, email, or text to ask for your personal information, like your Social Security, bank account or credit card numbers.
• If you get an email or text message from a company you do business with and you think it’s real, it’s still best not to click on any links. Instead, contact them using a website you know is trustworthy or look up their phone number. Don’t call a number they gave you or the number from your caller ID.
• Resist the pressure to act immediately. Legitimate businesses will give you time to make a decision. Anyone who pressures you to pay or give them your personal information is a scammer.
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• Know how scammers tell you to pay. Never pay someone who insists you pay with a gift card or by using a money transfer service. And never deposit a check and send money back to someone.
• Stop and talk to someone you trust. Before you do anything else, tell someone — a friend, a family member, a neighbor — what happened. Talking about it could help you realize it’s a scam.
Generation Z – the under 21 crowd – may have grown up with smartphones and the internet, however, they are falling victim to online scams faster than anyone else. That’s according to a study recently released by Social Catfish, an online identity-verification service.
Cybercrime among this age group has jumped 156% in the past three years. Compare that to 112% for their grandparents and individuals 60 and older.
For this younger group it appears because they are so comfortable being online, they also tend to let their guard down more readily. Plus, they are more willing to share information about their personal lives.
How are they most frequently victimized?
Job scams: Be wary of any job that seems too good to be true or asks you to pay money for training.
Online influencer scams: These involve creating fake social media accounts that mimic the influencer, hold a contest, and then ask the “winner” to pay a fee or provide their bank account number to get their prize.
Online shopping scams: The scammer creates a website to look like a legitimate online store selling items at a huge discount. However, the item you ordered never arrives and the fraudsters have your credit card and personal information.
Romance scams: These crooks end up winning a person’s heart and then try to get their money, as well.
Gen Zs can protect themselves following the same rules listed earlier in this column.
Dennis Horton is director of the Rockford Regional Office of the Better Bureau.