Michael Moore famously said that diets are a scam, and others have said the same of everything from vaccines to Valentine’s Day. But the real scams that took place in 2016 were fraudulent schemes that fooled thousands of people into handing over their hard-earned money to criminals.
Some scams—like the Nigerian email scam—have been around for years, while others are gaining in popularity and growing in sophistication as crooks combine advanced technology with old tricks. The Federal Trade Commission lists an alarming 18 pages of recent scam alerts. Here, though, we pare that list down to “only” 10 popular scams from 2016, listed in no particular order.
Be sure to keep a careful eye out for these and other scams that are likely to become more popular in the new year.
- Car Buying Scams
Dozens of car buying scams exist, from “title washing” used to remove evidence that a used car has been damaged, to tampering with the odometer to roll back mileage. To avoid such scams when buying a used car, your safest bet is to order a vehicle history report.
- Living Trust Scams
Con artists made millions of dollars last year selling living trusts that people didn’t need. If you have to create a trust, go to a reputable, licensed attorney—preferably one recommended by friends.
- Senior Scams
It’s a dastardly thing to do, but scam artists continue to prey upon the elderly, including asking for personal and financial details over the phone, or offering fraudulent investment schemes. Seniors, and those who love them, need to be extremely careful and skeptical of any offer, especially those made by strangers over the phone.
- Credit Repair Scams
People burdened by lots of debt proved to be another tempting target in 2016. Clicking on pop-up ads that promise a quick fix to bad credit will likely lead to hefty fees for services that do next to nothing to repair your credit.
- IRS Scams
IRS scams keep growing in popularity. Crooks impersonating IRS officials call to intimidate taxpayers into giving away personal information and paying back taxes. Tax scams in general are extremely common, making up one-quarter of all scams reported to the Better Business Bureau in 2015.
- Debt Collections Scams
Debt collections scams were as popular as ever in 2016. Fraudsters simply pick up the phone and call people, pretending to be debt collectors. Any personal or financial information the person on the other end of the line provides can be used for identity theft and other purposes.
- Advanced-Fee Loan Scams
“Bad credit, no problem!” was the promise made by many scam artists last year. The promise is that they will provide a much-needed loan or credit card once the victim pays an upfront fee. Often, once the fee is paid, no loan or credit card is ever issued.
- Sweepstakes Scams
An oldie but a goodie, sweepstakes and other prize scams tempt victims with the allure of winning big. But if you have to pay to enter the sweepstakes or attend a sales meeting to find out what you’ve won, you can bet it’s a scam.
- Electronics Buyback Scams
Wouldn’t it be nice to make some money off your old electronics, including smartphones? Buyback websites promise they’ll pay for the used products you send them—after they evaluate them, of course. The problem is that they may not pay anything at all, or far less than market value.
- Fake Charity Scams
It may be tempting to give money to a caller from a charitable organization. The problem is that some of the callers in 2016, as in previous years, were scam artists, either working on their own or for fake charitable organizations.
Were you the target of any scams in 2016? If not, consider yourself fortunate, as tens of thousands of people fall victim each year.
Knowing that these different types of scams exist is the first step to avoiding them. To protect your identity and your finances, it is also important to be skeptical of any offer that sounds too good to be true or requires upfront payment. And never let yourself be rushed into making any purchase or giving away your private information—especially online or over the phone. In short, slow down and be vigilant to make 2017 a scam-free year for you and your loved ones.