Fraud & Identity Theft

The Ultimate List of the Year’s Worst Scams

Editor's Note: This story was originally published on February 1, 2018 and has been updated to include new scams targeting consumers.

What a year it's been—almost six months into 2018 and there's already 22,704 scams added to the Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker and counting. That is good news, sort of, because last year at the same time there were already 27,989 scams found.

Scams Are Repeated Each Year

Many of the same scams are repeated each year, often driven by financial life moments such as taxes, holiday shopping, and utility scams. Also, identity thieves and scammers often try new twists on old scams that worked in the past.

So far this year, a number of different and new scams have made the news, listed here in alphabetical order:

Airbnb Scam

This scam involving users of the popular AirBnB site that lets travelers rent an apartment or house. The scam starts with an impostor home or apartment owner directing the renter towards a fraudulent or "spoof" website to finalize payment for the rental.

Those fake sites result in lost money and no place to stay because the rental property being discussed is usually not even available. In fact, the real owners are most likely unaware that their property is being spoofed by scammers.

"Can You Hear Me" and "Yes" Calls

This scam happens when you answer the phone and the person on the other line asks: "Can you hear me?" and you respond, "Yes." Your voice is being recorded to obtain a voice signature for scammers authorize fraudulent charges over the phone.

You can visit the FCC website to block any unwanted calls. The BBB Scam Tracker received more than 10,000 reports on the ‘Can you hear me?' scam, but none of the reports resulted in an actual loss of money.

Car Scams

The FBI shared information on a growing scam where crooks are targeting those looking to buy cars and other vehicles online. The FBI has received 26,967 complaints with losses totaling $54,032,396 since tracking this issue from May 2014 through December 2017.

This car scam starts with a criminal posting an online advertisement with a low price to get the attention of a buyer, including photos of the vehicle and contact information. When a buyer reaches out, the "seller" sends more photos and what appears as a logical reason why the price is discounted and indicates a need to sell.

The criminal then instructs you to purchase prepaid gift cards in the amount of the sale and share the prepaid codes. You're usually told you'll receive the vehicle in a couple days. Then you don't hear back from them again you're left without your money and still in need of a car.

Cryptocurrency Scams

As the price and popularity of Bitcoin and other cyber-currencies skyrocketed in late 2017, scammers eagerly sought to take advantage of the frenzy.

The Japanese Bitcoin exchange Coincheck was hacked in January and the thieves were able to steal more than $500 million in cryptocurrencies. This is the largest cryptocurrency hack to date.

Facebook and Instagram have banned advertisements for certain bitcoin, initial coin offerings (ICOs), and some other cryptocurrency-related products because of deceptive and misleading practices. Several ads were leading victims to sites such as Prodeum, whose only purpose was to take their money and not provide the advertised service.

Death Threat Hoax

The FBI came out warning consumers about death threats being made through emails that state "I will be short. I've got an order to kill you."

The email then demands money or bitcoin as a payout from the email recipients. Other versions of the scam could state that a "hitman has been hired to kill" them. This scam is very aggressive and threatening in nature to convince people that they have to pay or else.

Fake Bank Apps

Big banks have scammers posing as them in the form of apps. A recent survey by an Avast, a multi-national cybersecurity firm, found that one in three worldwide users mistakenly believed that a fake mobile banking app was the real thing, putting their financial data at risk. Thieves use the big customer base of major banks to try to get past the secure app stores and collect personal information.

Fortnite Scam

Fortnite: Battle Royale has more than 125 million players worldwide and that tremendous pull extends to hackers and scammers too. Players and parents should pay attention as the Fortnite creator, Epic Games, is warning gamers about the most common Fornite scam involving ‘free V-bucks.' Scammers offer free or discounted v-bucks to help players elevate their game. What can result is identity theft, downloading malware on a device or having your money stolen.

Grandparent Scam

This scam has been around and has seen an increase in activity of late. Depending on who answers the phone call, the person on the other line will say, "Hi, Grandpa" or "Hi, Grandma" pretending to be the grandson or granddaughter of the older victim.

The scammer then tells them a story that ends with, "I need money right away to… (insert issue here—pay my traffic ticket, post bail, pay for an ambulance)." All of this is said without providing too many details. If pushed, the scammers will say things like "please don't tell Mom or Dad" or "My nose is broken, so I may sound strange." Victims can end up wiring money to the scammers as a result. Read more here about other senior scams.

Home Improvement Scams

Another common seasonal scam centers around home improvement. As the weather gets nicer, homeowners often look to improve their homes. The Better Business Bureau says in 2017, there were nearly 350 home improvement scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker across the U.S., resulting in more than $600,000 lost.

Some scammers go door-to-door, offering to do improvement projects. They may take a deposit, and then never complete the work If you're not sure the salesman is legit, you can ask for a card and get back to them once you have been able to research the company by visiting the BBB website. These scams can also happen after major national disasters—hail storms, tornadoes, hurricanes, mudslides, and fires, among other things.

IRS Scam

You hopefully have received your tax refund check by now, but for many waiting on extensions from the IRS see their tax season continuing on with threatening scam calls from fake IRS agents. These fake agents usually demand money from victims or state that they will be arrested. The IRS has stated publicly that the summer is when the calls usually increase.

The calls can also be recorded messages left on your voicemail that leave the impression that if you do not call back, the IRS will issue a warrant for your arrest. It's important to note that the IRS does not ever call or leave urgent messages asking you to call them back.


Jackpotting is a new cyber-attack scam that the Secret Service warned financial institutions about criminals installing software or hardware on ATMs that force the machines to issue large amounts of cash. Criminals have found ways to exploit the standalone machines commonly found in pharmacies, big-box retailers, and some drive-thru ATMs.

It's hard to know the exact financial implications because sometimes these crimes aren't disclosed publicly, but any time money is missing, it's sure to have an impact on the banks and ultimately you, the consumer, in the former of higher fees or more obstacles to accessing your cash.

Jury Duty Scams

Another new spoofing phone call scam has popped up and involves scammers posing as judicial officials or police and calling people to let them know they failed to report for jury duty and owe a fine.

Scammers can spoof law enforcement phone numbers or names so people receiving the call may think that the call is legitimate. The FBI in Atlanta has received numerous complaints about the scam from people in and around the Savannah, Georgia area.

Medicare Card Scam

The Federal Government mailed out new Medicare cards that now have an 11-digit identification number instead of an enrollee's Social Security number to help protect seniors from identity theft. About 59 million people will receive the cards with a requirement from Congress that the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services remove Social Security numbers from Medicare cards by April 2019.

Because of the update, scammers are taking to the phones to try to trick people into giving them their new 11-digit identification number so they can take over their identity. According to an Allianz survey, the elder financial abuse victims average loss was $36,000.

Netflix Scam

The popular service is the target of an email phishing scam featuring the subject line "payment declined," which may get your attention if you are a subscriber. The email wants you to click on a link to update your credit card information.

If you see this don't click on the link because it can be dangerous malware. Visit your Netflix account by typing the address in yourself to check your account as a safer means of verifying your account status.

No Roof Scam

With summer upon us, thunder, hurricanes, and hailstorms can wreak havoc. If you recently suffered damage to your roof from weather events, be wary of people coming to your door offering their repair services as these storms can bring out the worst in people.

These scammers will make false promises to people needing to repair or replace their storm-damaged roofs. Many times they will ask payment before they start working or the job is completed. The BBB has partnered with cities on a campaign called the "No Roof Scam" to help consumers spot roofing contractor fraud.

Porting Scams

The scam called "porting" involves criminals stealing your phone number and your phone service in order to get access to your bank account through confirmation text messages. Scammers start by collecting your name, phone number and then gather any other information they can find about you such as your address, Social Security number, and date of birth.

Then they contact your mobile carrier and state that your phone has been stolen and ask that the number be "ported" to another provider and device. Once your number has been ported to a new device, scammers can then start accessing your accounts that require additional authorization such as code texted to your phone.

Romance Scams

Though Valentine's Day is over, romance scams will continue to pop up throughout the year. A romance scam typically involves a criminal setting up an account on a dating site with fake information and photos for a profile that is too good to be true.

Once a target has been established, the scam usually escalates to the thief's unveiling of a money problem. Typical scenarios include the request for funds so he or she can travel to meet you in person or to help a sick relative.

Unfortunately, seniors are the primary targets for romance scams, since they often spend more time alone as they age. Romance scams cost Americans more than $230 million as nearly 15,000 people were conned in 2016, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Secretary of State Scam

This scam starts when you receive an email claiming to be from former Secretary of State Rex Tillerson, who says you're owed a payment he knows about because of an investigation by the FBI and CIA.

The scam reportedly states that you will receive an ATM card with more than $1 million dollars on it, but first you have to send $320 along with personal information to receive it. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) says this is false—warning Americans to not fall for this—or anytime you're told you have won a prize, owe money, or may go to jail.

Shimmer Scams

A shimmer scam is an update on skimming except that thieves are using "shimmers" to target chip-based credit and debit cards. A shimmer is a very thin piece of paper that can read your card number and access your credit or debit card's EMV chip—the chip designed to help make your card more secure.

Did You Know? A shimmer is a very thin piece of paper that can read your card number and access your credit or debit card's EMV chip.

A thief will put a shimmer into an ATM and let it collect information from each card that is used, allowing them to then create a non-chip version or magnetic strip credit card. Shimmers have been showing up more recently despite first being reported on in 2015. In 2017, the number of debit cards compromised at ATMs and merchant card readers—typically via skimming devices that capture card data—rose 10%, according to FICO.

Tax Arrest Scam

The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) recently warned the public about "sophisticated phone scams" targeting taxpayers by claiming to be IRS employees. The scammers demand that the victims owe money to the IRS and to pay them promptly or be arrested, deported or have their driver's license suspended.

Sometimes, the caller becomes aggressive, warning people that a Sheriff or local law enforcement will show up at their door if they don't pay immediately. The IRS warning also reminded consumers that the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, threaten to bring in local police, ask for credit or debit card numbers over the phone, or require you to use a specific payment method for your taxes.

Tax Prep Scam

Not only are U.S. taxpayers the targets of scammers this tax season, so are the tax professionals that prepare tax returns. Tax fraud is big business for fraudsters that can steal the tax preparers information and turn around and sell it on the dark web for money.

This year scammers are sending a lot more phishing emails in an attempt to gain access to the accountant's computer. By doing so, the scammer can get access to that tax professional's client list and computer IP address to file fake tax returns on their behalf. Once submitted, the scammer will have the refund check sent to an address that they can pick up the check.

Tech Support Fraud

In 2017 there were 11,000 complaints related to tech support fraud that resulted in claimed losses of nearly $15 million - an 86% increase in losses from 2016. These tech support scams have prompted the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) to warn consumers about criminals claiming to provide customer, security, or technical support as a cover in effort to defraud individuals.

The scam can take place through a phishing email, phone call, pop-up ad or even a locked screen on your device with a phone number to call to fix. The IC3 offers several tips and guidance on how to handle situations like this and reminds people that legitimate customer, security, or tech support companies will not initiate unsolicited contact with individuals.

Veterans Scams

Fake charity scams are nothing new, and the Veterans Affairs Department and U.S. Postal Inspection Service warnes that veterans of the armed forces are particularly vulnerable. The scammers reportedly offer pension buyouts to veterans or ask veterans to donate to a charity that sounds and looks real but isn't. The scammers the donations or cash the pension checks.

The scammers will also take the donor's personal information to create a new fake identity or commit more crimes under that person's name. According to an AARP survey, 16% of veterans have lost money to fraudsters, compared to 8% of non-veterans.

How to Protect Yourself From Being Scammed

To avoid being scammed you have to remain diligent and follow these steps:

  • Assess the validity of all messages that you receive from people and business that you do not know. That includes any unsolicited phone calls, people knocking on your door, emails sent you—even those that look like they are from a company you do business with, or family and friends—and letters received in the mail that look like they are official.
  • Any emails and links sent to you that seem off should be checked first, by rolling your cursor over them with your mouse before actually clicking on the link. Look at the destination URL is to see if it looks legitimate or not.
  • Scammers will also pose as imposters from businesses or organizations and call or approach you in person. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) recently warned people about scammers posing as CFPB employees.

Criminals will go to great lengths to try to pressure you with demands for money or payments. If you feel you are being victimized, make sure to report the scam to the proper government agency, your local Better Business Bureau office, and your local police department.

Editorial Disclaimer: Opinions expressed here are author's alone, not those of any bank, credit card issuer, or other company, and have not been reviewed, approved or otherwise endorsed by any of these entities. All information, including rates and fees, are accurate as of the date of publication.
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