Written by Gabriel Dillard
Whether it was through Tinder Swindlers, Nigerian royalty, phony online reviews or old-fashioned identity theft, residents of the Golden State lost nearly $1 billion to fraud last year.
That’s according to new data from the Federal Trade Commission that 244,585 fraud reports from California consumers resulted in $820.8 million in losses in 2021. That adds up to a median loss of $600.
Reports of fraud are up for local metro areas. Fresno had 10,091 reports filed with the FTC last year, up nearly 29% from 2020. Hanford-Corcoran had 908 fraud reports, up 19%. Madera came in with 1,136 reports, up 16%. Visalia had 2,709, up 13%.
The top category of reports received from consumers in California was Identity Theft; followed by Imposter Scams; Credit Bureaus, Information Furnishers and Report Users; Online Shopping and Negative Reviews; and Banks and Lenders.
The FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network receives reports directly from consumers, as well as law enforcement agencies, the Better Business Bureau, industry members and nonprofits.
Fraud is up nationwide, with a reported loss to US consumers of more than $5.8 billion last year, up from $3.4 billion the year prior.
The Better Business Bureau is on the front lines helping consumers report cases of fraud. The number of cons generated by fraudsters boggles the mind. Recent scams include people posing as a company’s CEO to steal money or information and fake Covid testing sites asking for personal consumer information.
One employee of the Better Business Bureau Serving Central California & Inland Empire recently received what appeared to be an official text alert from Bank of America warning that their unemployment benefits account had been suspended. No such account existed. These imposter scams can trick people into giving personal information or even downloading malware.
The explosion of online shopping has exposed the prevalence of shady e-retailers. Last summer, the local BBB reported in its 11-county area that complaints against online retailers increased by nearly 24% compared to the same period in 2020. In the past 3 years, 636 different online retailers in the BBB’s region have had complaints filed against them. The dollar amount disputed in these cases totals more than $2.3 million.
The local BBB is a good resource for keeping up on the latest scams. Clayton Alexander, communications specialist with the local BBB office in Fresno, said scam reports received are compiled into a handy map that tracks cases by ZIP code in nearly real time. It’s called Scam Tracker.
“It’s a good resource for the public to use for their area,” he said.
Data and getting the word out may be the only chance we have at fighting fraud. Visit the FTC’s data analysis site for reports across a number of categories, including by state and metropolitan area.