ANCHORAGE (KTUU) — In 2018, $500 million were lost to imposter scams — scammers pretending to be someone a victim knows or trusts and convincing them to send them money. It's the biggest category of scams currently sweeping the nation according to the Federal Trade Commission, and these scammers are getting more sophisticated.
Some scams target a large number of people with the same basic approach. But other scammers are starting to get more personalized in the way they target victims, making it harder to determine what's a scam and what's not.
On Monday, Alaska Assistant Attorney General Cynthia Franklin spoke to a group at the Alzheimer's Resource of Alaska about imposter scams, how to spot fraud, and how to avoid falling prey to scammers yourself.
"Really what you have to do is strip away the story," Franklin said. "Completely ignore everything that you're hearing, and get to the bottom of what the person wants from you, and if they want money from you in the form of gift cards, or a wire, it's a scam."
So how do you recognize a scam? Well, if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Other giveaways include:
—A stranger offering an opportunity to make quick and easy money out of the blue
—The caller doesn't address you by name
—Insistence on urgency
—Requests for personal information early or up front like your birth date, address, or bank information
These scams come in many different forms. Franklin says the most common types of fraud going around Alaska currently are scams involving tech support, romance, and impersonation of government officials.
Tech support scams usually involve pop-ups on your computer. They may say you have several viruses, or theft and hacking threats and tell you to call a phone number. Franklin says no computer security software will ever send you an alert to call them by phone. Also, because these scams typically originate from other countries, check for typos.
Romance scams involve internet relationships with an unknown person who usually ends up asking for money. Signs of romance scams are when the person sends you overly attractive or provocative photos. They contact you numerous times a day, and declare undying love very quickly. Romance scammers invariably work to earn the trust of their victims before exploiting the emotional attachment that's been developed for financial gain.
Government imposter scams happen when the scammer pretends to be a government official asking for money. Franklin says, these scams are getting more tailored and specific.
"When Alaskans get called, they might see a 907 phone number, which is spoofing, which a company abroad, any country can get a 907 phone number and call you, and you'll think it's local and it's not local at all," Franklin said. "They'll mention local store names to convince you, and then as well, they might even mention local names that sound familiar."
Contrary to popular belief, seniors are not the most common group to fall victim to frauds and scams. It's actually young people between the ages of 20 and 29 who get scammed the most. However, seniors over the age of 70 typically lose more money. The median loss for seniors is four times higher than any other group. Franklin says it's very important to report a potential scam even if you haven't lost any money.
"It's really important that people understand that even though it's embarrassing, sometimes if they feel like they got scammed, or if they feel like they lost money, that by reporting it to the Attorney General's Office, to the police, to anybody, they can help other people from getting scammed."
If you think you've been a victim of fraud or would like to report a scam, you can file a complaint on the Alaska Department of Law website where you can also find information to stay educated on recognizing frauds and scams.