Who do you think the most impersonated organization was in 2021?

Mar 15, 2022

Newly released data shows that consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021, an increase of more than 70 percent over the previous year.

 

The most commonly reported category being imposter scams. Of the losses reported by consumers, more than $2.3 billion of losses reported last year were due to imposter scams—up from $1.2 billion in 2020.  That’s almost double!

Imposter scams are one of the most common tactics fraudsters use to perpetrate scams. By pretending to be well-known and trusted companies, government agencies, and organizations, scammers can better manipulate their targets.

Who do you think the most impersonated organization was in 2021?  I’ll give you a hint, they had twice the number or reports as the second most impersonated brand, the Social Security Administration.

Scammers impersonate all sorts of businesses, but Amazon was a runaway favorite in 2021.   Last year,  about one in three people who reported a business impersonator said the scammer claimed to be Amazon.

These impersonators get your attention with messages to call about suspicious activity or unauthorized purchases on your Amazon account. When you call the number, a phony Amazon representative tricks you into giving them remote access to your computer or phone to supposedly fix the problem and give you a refund. But then—whoops—a couple of extra zeros are keyed in and too much money is (supposedly) refunded. They tell you to return the difference. In fact, some people have reported that the “representative” even begged for help, saying Amazon would fire them if the money wasn’t returned.

In another twist, scammers tell people to buy gift cards and send pictures of the numbers on the back. The scammers may call these numbers “blocking codes” or “security codes,” and explain that sharing them can block the hackers who—supposedly—took over the Amazon account in question. But the only thing those numbers are good for is getting (or stealing) the money on the card. After people send pictures of the gift cards, they often report getting texts confirming a supposed account credit in the amount of each gift card purchase. That’s just another trick scammers use to get their targets to buy more cards.

Another common hook are text messages that say you’ve won a raffle for a free product from Amazon. People who click the link to claim their free prize then have to enter credit card information to pay for “shipping.” Before long, they see charges they never agreed to.

Most people who report these scams say the scammer contacted them. But some people have reported finding bogus phone numbers when searching online for the number to call Amazon about a real issue. Of course, the scammers who answer calls to those phone numbers are happy to “help.”

The data suggest that Amazon impersonation scams may be disproportionately harming older adults. Over the past year, people ages 60 and up were over four times more likely than younger people to report losing money to an Amazon impersonator.  Older adults also reported losing more money—their median reported loss was $1,500, compared to $814 for people under age 60.

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