#1: Financial scams

What did scammers want to do the most in 2023? They wanted to get to our wallets and take all of the finance-related account information they could – bank accounts, credit card numbers, using check fraud, one-time passwords (OTP), you name it.

The most common, and among the most dangerous of these scams this year revolved around payment apps, such as PayPal, Venmo, and Zelle.

Our security experts say that in 2023, criminals increasingly used Zelle to drain victims’ bank accounts. Like many scams, this one is based on the claim that the scammer is trying to protect the victim from fraud.

The target receives a text that appears to be from their bank asking if they attempted a Zelle transaction. Regardless of how they answer, the target next receives a phone call from the scammer, who spoofs the number so it shows up as coming from the target’s bank.

There’s no end to these scams, and in 2023 most of them started arriving in the form of text messages increase of emails.

Scammers are not only targeting PCs and phones, lately they have taken to targeting consumers using their smart TVs.

#2: Investment scams

Investment scams can take many forms. In years past, “affinity” scams were prevalent. A “financial advisor” would join a church and soon parishioners were talking about how smart he was.

Soon, church members were asking his advice and not long afterward, were finding he was something along the lines of Bernie Madoff. In 2023, these investment scams also took the form of “pig butchering.”

The pig butchering scam has nothing to do with farming. The term applies to a growing scam in which the scammer builds a rapport with the victim before casually mentioning they’ve gotten rich investing in cryptocurrency and offers to help their victim get rich as well.

The scammer “fattens up” the victim with phony profits on money the victim deposits in a fake trading app. As they see their money “grow,” they invest even more. At some point, the scammer, who controls the account, takes the money and runs.

#3: Romance scams

Romance scams prey on the lonely. They usually occur on dating sites and social media, where a lonely person forms an online relationship with someone. The problem is, they have no idea who this person is.

This scam is very prevalent in the days leading up to Valentine’s Day. “The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust,” the FBI said in a press release just before Valentine’s Day 2023.

“Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.”

The internet is full of recent tales of heartbreak. An 83-year-old Indiana woman, who lost her husband in 2020, was the victim of a romance scam that not only broke her heart but stole $98,000 from her.

#4: Online shopping scams

With more and more commerce moving to online channels, scammers are trying to take advantage by setting up fake online shopping websites. Here are some recent examples:

  • Walmart Survey Scam – Scammers impersonate Walmart and use exclusive offers as bait to invite victims to participate in a small survey to allow scammers to steal the victims’ personal info. The Trend Micro Research team saw 841 logs on Nov 26.

  • Costco Scam – Bad actors pretending to be Costco send out emails randomly, asking the email receivers to join a loyalty program for free and receive a $1,000 gift card. The Trend Micro Research team detected 745 logs on Nov 26.

  • T-Mobile Scam – Similar to the Costco scam above, this scam email informs the email receivers that they can claim a brand-new iPhone 15. The Trend Micro Research team saw 8,540 logs from Nov 21-27.

  • Aspire Cash Back Rewards Credit Card Scam – Scammers impersonate this credit card and send emails to victims to redirect them to a fake site, trying to steal users’ personal information. The Trend Micro Research team detected 1,723 logs from Nov 21-27.

IronVest’s Guy Bauman suggested that the smart consumer will keep their plastic cards in their wallet and start using virtual cards like Apple Pay and Google Pay instead.

“The critical advantage of a virtual card is that it is untraceable to your original information and single-use – meaning consumers maintain anonymity and limit their exposure to fraud to a single transaction,” Bauman noted.

“When it comes to data breaches and total account drains, this simple security measure can be the only tool that stands between you and life-changing fraud.”

#5: Student loan scams

After the Biden administration announced its intention to forgive portions of student loans – a plan overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court – scammers sprang into action.

Someone calls claiming to represent a new student loan forgiveness program. To see if you qualify for forgiveness, the scammer insists that you need to complete an online application form, which asks for personal information, such as your bank account details.

Like many scams, operators running the student loan forgiveness scam have different variations. In some cases, the scammer may say that you have to pay an upfront fee. Some are even brazen enough to tell victims they must redirect their regular student loan payments to them.

Even though the student loan forgiveness initiative is pretty much dead and buried, don’t be surprised if scammers try to revive it and keep running this scam.

#6: Tech support scams

Sigmund Freud would’ve made a great scam artist, sitting in his office in England, typing out “Your computer was locked” and telling you to call “Windows engineering” at a toll-free number for help.

And Iris CEO Paige Schaffer says that while scammers’ tactics evolve over time, there’s one thing that continues to stick: the psychological exploitation.

“Fake tech support scams work because people are worried about being hacked, and the message raises alarms, thus creating urgency,” Schaffer told us.

The most vulnerable consumers are seniors. ​​ConsumerAffairs reported on one who is $20,000 lighter thanks to the whirling dervish scammers had her in using the urgency angle.

#7: Imposter scams

Imposter scams are the new go-to tactic for con artists in their mission to take advantage of innocent victims. These scammers impersonate a wide range of brands and government organizations – the IRS, Amazon, and one of the biggest in ‘23, Xfinity.

And these ploys will get worse in 2024 according to Blair Cohen, founder and president of AuthenticID.

“As we enter 2024, spoofing – where fraudsters impersonate someone’s identity to gain trust – will continue to be a top concern. With the continued rise of AI, attackers are improving their tactics, making scams harder to identify,” Cohen told ConsumerAffairs.

“By leveraging AI, attackers can create more convincing and targeted scams, making it easier to gain unauthorized access to sensitive information and personal data.”

#8: Lottery/prize scams

ConsumerAffairs has been covering these kinds of scams for nearly two decades. Scammers keep running them because they work.

When the Mega Millions jackpot zoomed past a billion dollars earlier this year they jumped on it, sending out millions of unsolicited emails. Like so many other scams, though, the key twist of the knife comes when the target is told that they must pay a fee or share personal information to claim their winnings.

There are two tip-offs the message is a scam and there is no lottery or sweepstakes prize. First, you don’t have to pay a fee to receive a prize. Second, you can’t win a contest that you did not enter.

#9: Shipping/delivery scams

Package delivery scams made a shift from email to text messages this year, accounting for more than 30% of text message-driven scams.

Texts like, “Our driver can’t find your address, and your package is still pending. Our driver will redeliver tomorrow. Please provide your complete address at https://——.” Clicking on the link usually leads to a malicious site or a request to call a number. But the only package that gets delivered is compromising personal information that the victim unknowingly gives to the scammers.

#10: Gift card scams (tie)

Gift card scams have lost some of their luster, but scammers created a new wrinkle this year – one where they pull a gift card off a rack and surreptitiously scratch off and write down the activation code on the card. Then, they quietly put the card back on the rack, go online and activate the card and turn it into cash or credit.

But, when an innocent consumer buys the card, takes it home and attempts to use it, they find there’s nothing left to scratch except their head.

#10: Job scams (tie)

This year, all the pandemic clouds over the job market lifted and started booming again. With it expanding, the number of remote opportunities expanded, seniors rejoined the workforce, and scammers exploited job posting vulnerabilities with new tactics. The latest trick was fake recruitment and interviews conducted through instant messaging apps like Telegram Messenger.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has noticed two other job scam tricks recently. One, is where scammy recruiters will email you from a personal email, and not a company account, whereas real recruiters will generally email from their company (@companyname.com).

“Scammy recruiters push you for money,” too, says Ari Lazarus, a consumer education specialist, at the FTC. “They might send you a fake invoice for equipment (like a computer ) or ‘training’ that they’ll supposedly order but tell you to pay for first — using mobile payment apps like Cash App, Zelle, or PayPal. They’ll promise to reimburse you…but won’t, because it’s a scam.”

Dr. Zulfikar Ramzan, chief scientist at Aura, told ConsumerAffairs that even though the job market has recently tightened up a bit, job seekers need to stay vigilant.

“Be cautious of unsolicited messages, especially those promising lucrative positions with minimal effort,” he warns.

“Always verify the authenticity of any potential employer through official channels and avoid sharing personal or financial information through insecure platforms like instant messaging apps.”

From:  https://www.consumeraffairs.com/news/the-top-10-scams-of-2023-121423.html