How to Spot a FRAUD

I don’t know about you but I find myself questioning the legitimacy of every phone call, email, door knock and online encounter these days. This may be partly due to occupational hazard as a licensed Private Investigator. Let’s face it though, we are living in a time that feels as if scammers and schemes are coming at us from all directions.

According to data from the Federal Trade Commission consumers reported losing more than 5.8 billion to fraud in 2021. This is an increase of more than 70% from the previous year.

With fraud reports from over 2.8 million consumers, the most commonly reported were from the category of imposter scams.

Romance scams hit record highs in 2021, with consumers reporting over $547 million in losses.


What is fraud?

Fraud is a deliberate act (or failure to act) with the intention of obtaining an unauthorized benefit, either for oneself or for the institution, by using deception or false suggestions or suppression of truth or other unethical means, which are believed and relied upon by others.

Most Common Scams

  • COVID 19 Scams

Coronavirus scams seem to be dying down a bit but it’s still a good idea to be cautious. As recently as early 2022 scammers were identified in setting up fake testing sites in order to collect medical/personal information and selling fake at-home tests for profit. 

Scammers also like to take advantage of government aid programs, tax relief and even student loan forgiveness in the midst of pandemic and emergency roll outs. You can stay up to date of consumer awareness reports on the FTC’s coronavirus scams page. The IRS also maintains a tax-related scams page.

  • Romance Scams

Scams of the heart are certainly nothing new and won’t be going anywhere anytime soon. 

In 2021, romance scams were up 80% from 2020 as reported by the FTC. That’s six times higher than in 2017. This can probably be attributed to the pandemic, lockdowns and an increase in work from home jobs. People were spending more time in front of their computers and on dating apps during times of restricted in person activities.

Common triggers for spotting a romance scam are:

  • They profess their “love” or “feelings” too quickly
  • Over the top flattery or flirtatious language
  • Profile pictures are business professional or in uniform
  • In-person visits are always postponed or canceled
  • A family “medical” emergency/asking for financial support
  • They question your trust of them regularly

No two romance scams are identical but they usually have some common factors

           That can help identify them. For more information on how to spot a romance

           scam check out my blog post on the topic.

  • Employment Scams

Work from home? Yes, Please! Employment scams can sound really appealing and typically target those that have been out of work. 

Job scams are after the same things other scams are…your personal information and financial gain. A lot of times they will advertise jobs and opportunities in the same manner as legitimate employers- online, newspaper and sometimes tv & radio ads. 

Common types of Employment Scams

  • Reshipping scams/Reselling merchandise scams
  • Mystery shopper scams
  • Fake check scams (usually presented as nannies, caregivers, virtual assistants, etc)
  • Pyramid marketing scams
  • Data entry scams

There are a few warning signs to look out for while looking for jobs online. For      instance, interviews not conducted in person or a secure video chat but rather via a  teleconference line. Being offered a job without the interviewer checking references first or submitting a resume can be a red flag. Asking you for money to purchase start up equipment or to pay for background checks.

When looking for or applying for a new job opportunity it’s always a best practice to do your research. Look up the company website and be thorough as anyone can create a fake site and email addresses. Specifically search for the company name and include words like “scam”, “reviews” and “complaints”. Do the same with the name of the individual that is interviewing you.

  • Phone Related Scams

We use our phones for everything these days. They’re not just for communicating anymore. We order merchandise, we log on to banking apps, we store personal information and we can even use our phones to pay for things in store in the same manner as using a debit card. For this reason, scammers very much want to either contact us via our phones or gain access to our phones in order to install malware.

Common Phone Scams

  • The classic robocall (car warranties, vacations or threats related to debt)
  • Text scams – smishing attempts (identity theft scam)
  • Impersonators trying to gain trust or make threats to gain personal information
  • Apps – gaining access through malware or fake apps charging through in-app purchases
  • QR code scams that prompt you to enter personal information are gaining popularity

Scam callers often pose as representatives of government agencies or familiar tech, travel, retail or financial companies, supposedly calling with valuable information. 

Always remember that legitimate government agencies, such as the IRS or your own banking institutions will never call you to ask you to provide your personal information over the phone. 

As with anything else, always independently research travel deals, business opportunities and charities before making any decisions.

  • Zelle Scams (peer to peer payment apps)

Zelle and other peer to peer payment app scams are on the rise. These scammers will contact you, pretending to be your banking institution. They will tell you that someone is trying to steal money from you through the app and that  they are calling from the fraud department and need to walk you through “fixing” the issue. They will then have you send money via the app to yourself but the money is actually going into their account.

  • Cryptocurrency Scams

Cryptocurrency scams are fraudulent investment schemes that use cryptocurrencies, such as Bitcoin, to defraud investors. These scams can involve fake Initial Coin Offerings (ICOs), Ponzi schemes, pump and dump schemes, bitcoin stealing, fake cryptocurrency wallets and other scams.

These are just a few of today’s most common scams. I can and will expand on each of these types of scams in my blog. I’ll also be sharing articles on How to Spot a Romance Scammer, The Anatomy of a Scammer, Warning signs of a  Military Dating Scam and much more. 

I’ll also provide tools and resources on what to do if you think you’re being scammed and how to report a fraudster.