2021 fraud trends show increased financial loss, rise of investment scams, and more
Fraud.org’s annual Top Ten Scams Report for 2021 is out! Although fewer consumers reported monetary losses due to fraud when compared to 2020, the median amount lost has hit a 10-year high. This comes as everyone is adjusting to a much more virtual way of life, with the pandemic entering its third calendar year. Notably, an explosive growth in cryptocurrency seems to have driven a 168 percent increase in investment scams, a Fraud.org category which includes cryptocurrency fraud. The full Top Ten Scams Report for 2021 can be found here.
Top Ten Scams of 2021
- Prizes/Sweepstakes/Free Gifts
- Internet: General Merchandise
- Fake Check Scams
- Friendship & Sweetheart Swindles
- Investment: Other (incl. cryptocurrency scams)
- Advance Fee Loans, Credit Arrangers
- Family/Friend Imposter
- Computers: Equipment/Software (incl. tech support scams)
Sweepstakes scams, which made up 35 percent of all reports received by Fraud.org, were the #1 type of scam for 2021. With a median loss of $795 resulting from this form of fraud, Sweepstakes scams had been a steadily rising complaint on Fraud.org’s radar. The basic premise involves a victim being notified that they won a prize or other monetary reward, but in order to claim it, they must first send the fraudster money. Victims are often asked for more payments before being able to claim their reward and the cycle continues, never allowing the victim to receive their (likely non-existent) prize.
While sweepstakes scams took the top spot, investment fraud was the fastest growing category, more than doubling its share of reported complaints. We believe this is due to the surge in cryptocurrency scams as scammers take advantage of the new and often inadequately regulated market. The median loss for this category was $1,750, our second highest median loss (even though this form of fraud represents only 3 percent of the reports we received). The disproportionate harm we’re seeing here should serve as a warning to consumers who may be searching for new investment portfolios.
This year’s new entry: fraudulent offers of scholarships or grants. Ranking at #10, this category had a median loss of $1,000 and grew almost 25 percent compared to data from 2020. While simply applying to a counterfeit grant already involves risks stemming from providing personal information to deceitful actors, the monetary damage is extra punitive. Similar to sweepstake scams, fraudulent grants may promise their award only after the victim provides a payment, possibly hidden in an “application fee.”
Tips to guard against fraud
- Be wary of strangers requesting payment. It may seem like common sense, but anyone awarding a prize, distributing grants, or offering a job should not ask for up-front payments before providing what was promised.
- Look for outside references. Legitimate sweepstakes, grants, and even cryptocurrency markets will often have some type of press campaign associated with them. Search for verifiable news coverage or crowdsourced user reviews rather than relying on the scammer’s word.
- Check for typos. Common internet scams involve a popular website or company name, but with one letter missing or added. Although easy to miss, catching this red flag can be a lifesaver.
- Verify identity. Similar to the second tip, finding an outside channel to verify identity can prevent imposter fraud. Texting a friend’s phone number to ensure the social media DM really came from them or calling your grandmother to check if she actually sent that email often takes no time at all and keeps you safe.
The Top Ten Scams Report was compiled from more than 4,300 complaints filed by consumers with Fraud.org in 2021. We share these complaints with our network of law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can investigate and help put fraudsters behind bars. If you or someone you know has been a victim of a scam, we urge you to file a complaint at Fraud.org via our online complaint form.