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Top Frauds of 2019: Federal Trade Commission

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Highlights:

  • Government imposter scam reports to the FTC increased more than 50 percent since 2018
  • The most common way victims were contacted by scammers was by phone
  • The top state for scam reports was Nevada

More than 1.7 million Americans reported falling victim to various types of fraud or scams in 2019, losing some $1.9 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission. In all, the FTC received more than 3.2 million reports of fraud, including identity theft, imposter scams and telephone and mobile phone scams.

Imposter scams top the list 

The top type of fraud reported to the FTC was imposter scams, in which a caller pretends to be calling from the government, a business or a relative with an emergency. People reported losing nearly $667 million to these imposters in 2019, most frequently paying the scammers with a gift card.

The most prevalent type of imposter scams was callers purporting to be from the Social Security Administration. More than 166,000 were reported, with a median individual loss of $1,500. Government imposter scams have increased more than 50 percent since 2018, according to the FTC. 

The Social Security Administration says on its web site that it does not contact people by phone. “If there is a problem, we will mail you a letter with your Social Security number,” the administration says. “Generally, we will only contact you if you have requested a call or have ongoing business with us.”

Social Security employees will never threaten you for information or promise a benefit in exchange for personal information or money. Social Security employees also do not:

  • Tell people their Social Security number has been suspended
  • Promise a benefit approval or increase in exchange for information
  • Contact people to demand immediate payment
  • Require a specific method of payment, such as prepaid debit cards, gift cards or wire transfers
  • Demand that people pay a Social Security debt without being able to appeal the amount you owe

If you receive a suspicious call from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, hang up, the administration says. Don’t provide any type of payment or personal information over the phone. These calls can be reported to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General. 

The agency's statistics come from a network of complaints made by consumers to the FTC, as well as reports received from state and federal law enforcement, national protection groups and non-governmental organizations. The FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book is released annually, with consumer complaint data released quarterly online. The online database is available for use by more than 2,500 law enforcement agencies in the U.S. and abroad. 

West and Northeast most common fraud areas 

The top state for scam reports was Nevada, with 2,257 reports per million people, followed by Oregon (2,086 per million people), Washington (2,040 per million people) and Delaware (1,841 per million people). See data about your state here.

Top reported fraud tactics

The FTC received more than 650,000 reports of identity theft in 2019. Of those, more than 271,000 were reports of credit card fraud, and more than 104,000 were reports of loan or lease fraud.

Phone calls were the top way people reported being contacted by scammers. Most people said they hung up, but those who lost money reported a median individual loss of more than $1,000.

Younger people reported losing money to fraud more often than older people – 33 percent of those ages 20 to 29, compared with 13 percent ages 70 to 79. But older people had a higher median loss -- $800 for those ages 70 to 79 and $1,600 for those ages 80 and over, compared to $448 for those age 20-29.

Reporting scams, fraud and identity theft to the FTC enables the agency and law enforcement to investigate. “Your reports help build and bring those cases, which also helps us enforce laws that stop scams and other dishonest business practices that take people’s money,” according to the FTC. 

In 2019, FTC law enforcement actions led to more than $232 million in refunds to people who lost money. 
Scams can be reported to ftc.gov/complaint