Social Media Scams

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Internet scams are on the rise and there is plenty of evidence all around telling us this is so. I see news headlines about it every day. My question is why? Is it that internet scams have become more lucrative for scammers and so there are more of them? Or is it that the 'barrier to entry' of becoming a scammer is lower now so there are just more of them cutting into the money pie?

I read online today that a scammer can buy a phishing kit for 'dummies' (which provides instructions for how to send out phishing spam emails) for about $100, rent a botnet for about $5/hour and go ahead and push out more than 10,000 messages that look like they are coming from a known bank, UPS, or PayPal. So any lowlife with a little cash and time can get into the scamming business. I also think there is evidence scammers are actually stealing more total money than ever before - the average loss per person is going up. But it's hard to know for sure because so many victims do not report the crime. This tells me people are in dire need of being educated on how to avoid scams. And if you think it would never be you, let me say we are well past the days of thinking only dumb people or the very elderly fall for scams. I'm here to tell you every demographic falls for scams - from business owners to lawyers, seniors to the young, divorced to newly married, college graduates to laborers, artists to engineers, and everyone in between.

Here are some statistics revealing the scope of online crime from the Internet Crime Center (ICC) Report for 2011 ( Note: complaints on this site are only registered if there is actual financial loss:

  • It was the third year in a row that over 300,000 complaints were logged in one year (2009 was the peak so far). Over $485.3 million estimated loss from complaints in 2011.
  • Victims came from these five top states - California, Florida, Texas, New York, and Ohio. Victims from California lost approximately $70.5 million in 2011. The average loss for all victims in 2011 was $4187 per victim.
  • 51.76% of 2011 complaints were male.
  • Highest number of complaints in 2011 came from the ages between 40-59 (43%) and seniors 60 and over represented only 14% of the complaints.

Top type of scams were:
  1. Scammers posing as FBI to defraud victims.
  2. Identity theft.
  3. Advanced fee fraud - victims pay for something that doesn't exist or has no value.
  4. Overpayment fraud - scammers overpaying with counterfeit check and asking victims to deposit and forward a portion (from their good money) to a third party via wire transfer.

A couple more important points:
  • In romance scams, only 5600 complaints were filed in 2011 but total loss was $50.4 million, with women in the 50-59 age range experiencing the greatest loss.
  • Work-at-home scams represented over $20 million dollars in losses in 2011.

There has got to be some way to reduce these numbers!

In Volume 1, Top 10 Email Scams (ISBN: 978-1-938831-00-3), I wrote about how I got into this battle. I have two blogs, two Facebook pages, a Twitter account, and this book series dedicated to chipping away at the problem. There is power in the act of people posting warnings online to alert each other. It helps to bring these slimy guys (and women, too) out into the light where we see what they are doing. I invite you to do the same. When you get a scam email and you proudly now know and easily recognize it as a scam - go post it online somewhere so that others will be alerted to what it looks like. People tend to search on the person's name who has sent the email (scammers make up fake names but that's okay, they seem to use certain ones over and over again) and the email address (which is disposable, but that's okay, too - go ahead and post it online anyway). We can and will make a difference. This is what social media is all about. Power to the people. Welcome to the battle.

- Kathleen, Anti-Scam Samurai