Top 10 Scams of 2010 and 2011

Phishing and identity theft hold top slot on our Top 10 Scams list but social networking changes the game: Internet Scambusters #420

The 10th anniversary of our annual countdown of the Top 10
scams for the past year and the New Year offers no cause for
celebration.

The growth of Internet usage over that decade and, most
recently, the surging membership of social networking sites
like Facebook and Twitter, have fueled more online scams and
hack attacks than ever, while offline cons — in the mail or
at your doorstep — continue apace.

But Scambusters subscribers and readers can keep a step ahead
of the crooks by knowing their favorite tricks and what
they’re likely to be up to next, as we show here.

As always, we also recommend you check out the most popular
articles from our other sites during the past week:

Choosing the Right Orthodontist for Your Child’s Braces: Follow these tips for choosing the best orthodontist for your child and getting the best treatment possible.

Have You Been Phishing Lately? Learn how to report phishing email scams and help clean up the Internet.

Make Your Own Wedding Shower Invitations and Save Money: Here’s how you can make some unique and classy wedding shower invitations that won’t break your budget.

4 Low Fat Diet Myths You Need to Avoid: Learn these 4 low-fat diet myths and lead a long, healthy life.

Let’s check out today’s…


Top 10 Scams of 2010 and 2011


Ten years have passed since we started our Top 10 scams list
and it’s amazing, looking back, how many of the scams we
predicted a decade ago continue to plague victims, as you’ll
see if you check out that original list, Herbal Viagra and the other 9 top scams for 2001.

Those were relatively early days of the Internet, of course.
Users were fewer and so were the number of crooks using the
web to hook their victims.

Since then, the rapid change in the shape and operation of the
Internet, notably the huge growth of social networking, has
introduced new techniques for delivering scams, and the number
of victims has gone up by leaps and bounds.

Reporting recently on the 10-year trend, Internet security
outfit PandaLabs noted the high incidence of the Nigerian fee
scam, which was Number 3 in our charts 10 years ago, Number 4
last year, and, we predict, will hold the same position in
2011.

Check out our earlier reports for more about Nigerian scams.

Nigerian Scam

3 New Nigerian Scams Uncovered — Plus a Personal Family Identity Theft Scare

8 Cunning New Nigerian Scams Aim to Convince You They’re Real

Lottery and advance fee scams and bogus jobs — both
work-from-home and outside employment — have remained
consistently high in the charts.

PandaLabs also mentions the high incidence of hijacking of
Hotmail and Facebook accounts by hackers who then claim to be
the account holder in urgent need of cash.

But, surprisingly, the security specialist didn’t specifically
single out one of the root causes of this offense: phishing —
the crime of stealing personal information for identity theft
— which is by far the biggest scam and remains firmly at the
head of our Top 10 scams list for 2011.

Results for 2010

Let’s now take a look at the Scambusters top scams chart,
which is based on the feedback we get from many thousands of
subscribers and readers, plus our own in-depth research and
monitoring of crime reports.

For 2010, our Top 10 scams predictions again proved to be
fairly accurate, with just a couple of switches at the lower
end.

Here’s how the outturn looks, against our forecasts.

10. Travel and vacations (Predicted as #9). As forecast, the
Soccer World Cup in South Africa drew in thousands of ticket
scam victims, while an increasing flow of travelers to China
found themselves at the center of numerous tourist con tricks.
However, the economic recovery we expected to see wasn’t as
strong as everyone hoped and many Americans decided to
vacation more safely at home.

9. Investment scams (Predicted as #10). In the wake of the
Madoff scandal, more incredible Ponzi schemes were exposed and
crashed, while art investment frauds targeted celebrities.
Rock bottom interest rates lured more people into phony real
estate and “green” investment projects (including the BP Gulf
disaster clean-up) and foreign exchange funds promising
unrealistically high returns.

8. Work from home schemes (Predicted as #7). Still a major
source of crime, bogus home-working schemes received a lot of
publicity throughout the year, so, although there were just as
many crooks pushing these scams, slightly fewer victims may
have fallen for them than we expected. One bit of good news!

7. Auctions and classified ad scams (Predicted as #8) move up
one more place in our Top 10 scams list, as they did in the
prior year. As much as anything, this reflects the growing use
of the Internet for buying stuff, so we included bogus retail
websites in our research this year, which, as you’ll see
below, is likely to push the crime even higher up the charts
in 2011.

6. Doorstep scams (Predicted as #6). We forecast that the 2010
Census back in April would attract scammers, mainly “phishing”
(see #1 below) for information they could use for identity
theft. And we were right. The annual crop of disasters,
including floods and, this year, the San Francisco gas
explosion, also brought out the bogus contractors in force.

5. Lottery scams (Predicted as #5). Sadly, as we reported a
year ago, this crime targets the elderly. There’s apparently
still no shortage of victims willing to pay up to hundreds of
thousands of dollars in bogus fees to collect non-existent
winnings.

4. Nigerian scams (Predicted as #4). The continuing efforts by
the Nigerian government to clamp down on this scam seem to be
having little effect. A TV documentary broadcast a few months
ago showed how whole towns in that country have become
dependent on the proceeds of scams.

3. Economy-related scams (Predicted as #3). Foreclosure and
loan modification scams, together with bogus job offers —
usually a prelude to identify theft or simply a means for
charging an upfront fee — were the most common crimes in this
category. The BP Gulf disaster added significantly to the
number of phony job schemes.

2. Malware (Predicted as #2). This is the broad term for
harmful software that installs on home and business computers
to steal information, wreck hard drives, disrupt business
activities and recruit computers into “zombie botnets” for
sending out spam. Internet security specialists McAfee say they’ve identified 14 million unique malware programs, up by 1 million over the year as a whole.

1. Phishing and identify theft (Predicted as #1). The invasion
by scammers of social networking sites, such as Facebook and
Twitter, together with malware downloads (see above) kept this
crime firmly in the top slot.

Changes for 2011

We don’t see much change in the running order of our Top 10
forecast for 2011, only, sadly, an overall rise in the number
of incidents, especially those relating to social networking
which are now used by around 30% of the global population, and
a significantly higher percentage of Americans.

However, for the New Year, we’re merging work-from-home jobs
with our economy-related scams to make way for a newcomer that
we expect to grow significantly in the coming months.

This is “skimming,” which embraces a whole clutch of crimes
including thefts from ATM machines and capturing of credit
card information at restaurants, gas stations and other retail
outlets.

We’ve previously reported on some types of this crime in ATM Theft: 8 Tips to Protect Yourself From the 5 Most Common ATM Scams.

Look out for more information in future Scambusters issues.

So, with that in mind, here’s our 2011 forecast of Top 10
Scams.

Predictions for the Top 10 Scams of 2011

10. Travel and vacations. Americans are still vacationing at
home in the weak economy and amid safety fears about traveling
to Mexico. But with the world economy still unsteady, scammers
are more desperate than ever to catch out those who do journey
abroad. Watch out especially for a huge ticket scam for the
forthcoming London Olympics 2012.

9. Investment scams. Investors have become more cautious about
Ponzi schemes, which draw in new money to pay earlier
investors until the whole scheme collapses. But low interest
rates will continue to push investors into high-risk and shaky
projects. Expect also to see more computer trading programs
with dubious claims that they can “beat the market.”

8. Doorstep scams. With the Census out of the way, this crime
drops two places, but bogus contractors, charity collectors,
utility workers and others who knock at your front door bent
on crime keep it strongly in the charts. And, of course, a
major natural disaster, such as hurricane, earthquake or
floods, could push this higher.

7. Skimming. European banks report a huge increase in debit
and credit card information theft, especially at ATMs that
have been rigged either to collect card details or to trap the
card so the crook can use it. Expect to see a similar trend in
the US during 2011.

6. Bogus and fraudulent Internet sales. As mentioned above,
this category now embraces bogus retail sites selling nothing
but thin air, as well as online auctions and classified ads.
We think this will be more than enough to push this category
up one further place in our Top 10 scams list.

5. Lottery and gaming scams. We’ve also broadened this
category to include online gaming scams, featured in an
earlier Scambusters report. We expect to see significant
growth in bogus gambling-related sites, and a continuing
stream of phony lottery schemes.

4. Nigerian scams. In their report referred to earlier,
PandaLabs points out that the latest version of the Nigerian
scam claims that a compensation fund has been set up and
invites previous victims to put in a claim. Then, of course,
the scammer requests a fee before the supposed compensation
can be released.

Nigerian crooks are also muscling in on the bogus girlfriend
scam previously dominated by the Russians. Victims, befriended
online, end up paying supposedly for airfares and other
expenses for their new but non-existent sweetheart.

3. Economy related scams. The economy is taking much longer to
recover than hoped, so expect to see foreclosure and load
modification scams to continue. Plus, as mentioned above, we
now include work-from-home scams in this category.

2. Malware. As many as 60,000 new pieces of malicious software
appear every day, says McAfee. The growing use of USB drives
to store and transfer data may also contribute to the spread
of malware.

1. Phishing and identify theft. The growth of malware
mentioned above, coupled with hijacking of social networking
accounts and more sophisticated hacking technology, means that
identity theft will remain the Number One Internet crime for
the foreseeable future.

Compiling our annual forecast of the Top 10 scams is not a
pleasant task. Nor is being proved right about our predictions
for the past year.

However, it does reinforce our determination to do everything
we possibly can to reduce the impact of these despicable
crimes. By highlighting the risks and publishing this top
scams list, which we invite you to pass on to friends and
relatives, perhaps we can do just that.

That’s all for today — we’ll see you next week.