Online scammers raked innocent victims for over $4 billion in 2020. Here are the most popular scams and how to avoid them.

Michigan was the 15th most scammed state in 2020, as online scams rose dramtically, thanks to the pandemic and the fact that more people were forced to work online than ever before.

The statistics were compiled by the web site SocialCatfish.com in their annual State of Internet Scams report, using data compiled by the FBI, the Federal Trade Commission and the Internet Crime Complaint Center.

Michigan residents were scammed out of close to $84 million in 2020. The top five states were California, New York, Texas, Florida and Ohio.

And don't be fooled into thinking scammers target the elderly. Although older people are more frequently fall for internet scams, Gen Z, consisting of 18 to 24 year old people saw their chances of being scammed increase by 52 percent in 2020, the most of any age group.

According to Social Catfish, here are the 5 costliest scams to avoid right now:

1)      Business Email Compromise (BEC): $1.8 billion lost in 2020, $96,373 per victim. Business owners must be on alert for scammers infiltrating company email systems.  They create a fake email that looks like it is coming from your actual vendor. They send an invoice or email and ask to have payment sent to a new bank account going forward.

 How to Avoid: Double check the email address as it is usually off by one letter. Beware of glaring typos or odd requests like needing your employee’s social security numbers.

 2)      Romance Scams and Confidence Fraud: $600 million lost, $25,272 per victim.

Romance scammers steal photos of good-looking people and target lonely singles online.  Once the victim falls in love, they start asking for money or gift cards which cannot be traced.  Confidence fraud operates the same way by earning the victim’s trust and then asking for money.

How to Avoid: Never give money to anyone you meet online.  If they will not video chat or meet, they are a scammer.

3)      Investment Scams: $336 million lost, $38,287 per victim.

Cybercriminals will offer once-in-a-lifetime investment opportunities via email and social media that promise high rates of return at little to no risk. Once you “invest” you never see your money again.

How to Avoid: Avoid high-pressure sales tactics and investments that seem too good to be true. Research the person and company and consult a third-party financial expert.

4)      Online Shopping: $265 million lost, $2,434 per victim.

Fake websites are created purporting to be an online store that sells items at a huge discount.  If you buy, they pocket the money and never send the item. Moreover, they will steal credit card and personal information for future online theft.

How to Avoid: Make sure the website is not full of typos. If the “customer service” email is “gmail.com” or “yahoo.com” that is a red flag. Research the company and read reviews.

5)      Identity Theft: $219 million lost, $5,065 per victim.

Scammers steal personal information and use it to access bank accounts, credit cards and even unemployment benefits.  They send phishing emails with links and once they are clicked malware infects the computer and steals your information.

How to Avoid: Never post personal information on social media, even your birthday. Use a password manager to create many different passwords so if one is compromised your other accounts are safe.

If you are the victim of a scam or attempted scam report it to the FTC, IC3FBI and IdentityTheft.gov.

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