Predictions for 2012
As consumers become more aware of risks, especially online, crooks are turning to more sophisticated technology to steal information from places over which we have no control and to target vulnerable groups like seniors.
The older age group are particularly at risk from scams on the Internet because they represent possibly the fastest-growing section of users. Most other age groups have been online for years and, with the exception of very young users, are tuned in to many of the security risks. Not so with older folk.
One worrying trend that will help keep ID theft at the head of the top scams list is the growth in data breaches -- loss of personal information over which we have no control. For more on this, see our earlier report, What to Do If You're a Data Breach Victim.
Against that background, here's our top scams forecast for 2012.
10. Travel scams. Timeshare schemes will be with us of course, but look out for a surge in free flight and vacation scams -- telephone and snail-mail offers front-loaded with service charges. After you pay, you find the offer has expired. The London 2012 Olympics likely will also be a magnet for ticket scams.
9. Money-for-nothing scams. This is our new catch-all label for doorstep and charity scams. You pay money to a charity collector -- on your doorstep, in the mall or online -- often after a natural disaster, but your cash ends up in the collector's pocket. Also on your doorstep: bogus and crooked contractors who take your money for work you didn't need or which they don't bother to do.
8. Economy-related scams. Times are still uncertain, but other, more lucrative scams will likely push this group of con tricks that includes bogus job schemes further down our top 10 scams list. Foreclosure scams might start to cool off but other fee-laden loan modification and bogus grant tricks will persist.
7. Investment scams. We haven't seen the end of crooked Ponzi schemes yet, and with low interest rates, high precious metal prices and turbulent markets, scammers have latched on to gold, copper and currency trading as a lure to investors. Anything that pushes up oil prices will also boost bogus energy-saving products.
6. Lottery scams. Despite stacks of media publicity and tragic reports of huge financial losses, people continue to be hoodwinked by emails and letters saying they've won a fortune on a lottery. Scammers use celebrity or official-sounding names to make their claims more credible and keep lotteries at the halfway point in our top scams list. Once a victim is hooked with a small initial "processing" payment, the scammers just keep coming back for more.
5. Skimming and ATM scams. We've broadened this top 10 scams category slightly to include tricks that not only steal card information but also block ATMs from paying out. The crook returns to take your money after you've left to complain. This crime is seriously on the rise because it's so easy. See this earlier report, ATM Theft: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself From the 5 Most Common ATM Scams.
4. Nigerian scams. Well, what do you know... now that everyone knows they haven't inherited a fortune, Nigerian scammers have plunged into the lonely-hearts market to make up for lost "business." They frequent online dating agencies, especially targeting older age groups, but also send out emails on-spec, claiming to have fallen for their victims (whom they've never seen!). Romance ensues, followed by a request for money for an air ticket. This and ongoing advance fee scams will push this scam back up our top scams chart.
3. Internet sales. Scammers will try to keep one step ahead of law enforcement and security software, especially with scam shopping websites. These tricks also include bogus shopping comparison sites that pretend to be giving impartial reviews, phony online pharmacies, and "free trial" sites that trick victims into unwittingly signing up for recurring credit card or cell phone charges.
2. Malware. Law enforcement agencies and software companies have been moderately successful in shutting down botnets, used for spamming, and fake anti-virus alerts that trick victims into paying to supposedly secure their PCs. But the scale of the malware industry is phenomenal. Add in the "gray" area of adware we unknowingly allow to install on our PCs, and we can't see any chance of this PC hijacking moving down our top scams rankings.
1. Phishing and identity theft. As we said earlier, our biggest concern is the amount of information hackers have shown themselves capable of stealing by breaking into the networks of firms that hold our personal records. We think this will continue to grow, along with persistent attempts to capture our confidential information through phishing tricks via spoof sites, emails and cell phone text messages.
What our annual list of top scams shows is that crooks continuously change and refine their techniques in their efforts to outwit us all. No doubt they will continue to do so but the decline in identity theft crime gives us some hope that perhaps advances in security technology or just plain user wariness can help protect us.
It's probably too much to hope that we can ever turn the tide against the scammers but by knowing what the top scams are, you can at least reduce your chance of becoming a victim.
That's all we have for today, but we'll be back next week with another issue. See you then!