It’s pretty much a consensus the best thing about 2020 was seeing it in our rearview mirrors. It was a year packed with tumult. COVID-19 dominated our lives, changing the way we worked (if we could), how our children studied and even how we worshipped. 2020 featured a nearly year-long contentious and acrimonious election season and its summer was one of historic civil unrest.
As I said in a column in April of last year, “Scammers keep on scamming,” and 2020 turned out to be a banner year for them. The circumstances and events of 2020 combined to form perfect conditions for the unscrupulous to take advantage of stressed consumers.
Here’s a list of 2020’s Top 5 scams.
1. Scammers know citizens relying on their Social Security checks to make ends meet are likely to be very cooperative if they receive a phone call from someone from the Social Security Administration. Impostors posing as SSA representatives called victims, claiming victims’ Social Security accounts had been blocked because it had either been linked to a crime or used to apply for fraudulent credit cards. Victims were warned the loss of benefits or even arrest would result if cooperation was not provided. In this scam, con artists were not after victims’ money, but instead hoped to acquire Social Security numbers and other personal information so they could steal identities.
2. The rollout of $1,200 COVID relief checks saw fraudsters again claim to be U.S. government officials. In order to receive the $1,200 check, victims were told they were required to furnish their Social Security number, Medicare number (if any) and a bank account number for direct deposit. Some also claimed a test must be taken to receive a stimulus check. Those claims, of course, were absolutely false. The IRS has and will deposit your COVID-19 relief checks directly into your bank account used to receive your tax refund.
3. The Grandparent Scam, where scammers pose as grandchildren in trouble, was again a top favorite of scammers in 2020. Victims got a bogus phone something like: “Grandma! I’m in the hospital (or stranded or arrested, etc.) and I need money. Please wire it right away.” Grandparents often panicked and sent the money immediately.
4. Sweepstakes and lottery scams were very prevalent in 2020. People dream about what they could do with winnings from a Publishers Clearing House Sweepstakes, Mega Millions or Powerball jackpot. Scammers are well aware of hits. They robocalled victims, telling them they had won a jackpot worth millions of dollars. However, in order for victims to receive their “winnings,” the con artists told them they must first provide personal information such as bank account details, Social Security numbers and also pay a fee for taxes upfront.
5. Fake Amazon phone calls, texts and emails peppered our community in 2020. Both Amazon consumers and merchants received fraudulent messages stating their Amazon accounts had been temporarily suspended due to suspicious activity on their accounts such as false logins or account errors. Reinstatement was dependent on victims immediately contacting a bogus “Amazon Sellers Services” and “verifying” accounts by furnishing confidential passwords and other sensitive data.
That’s the Top 5 scams of 2020 — but here’s a new Medicare scam that has recently been reported several times. It goes like this: Consumers receive bogus calls supposedly from Medicare saying the agency is sending out new black and white cards replacing current blue and white cards. Consumers are told they must provide the information on their current Medicare cards in order to receive the new replacement cards.
If you think you may be a target of a scam attempt, call our BBB office at 419-223-7010.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.