Internet of Things scales up our top scams table for both 2016 and 2017 Internet Scambusters #731
Identity theft, imposter con tricks, and a new wave of malware keep these three crimes in the first three slots of our annual top scams table.
We've combined the latest research findings with reports from readers and other Internet security sites to give a view on the Top 10 scams in 2016 and predict a possible outturn in 2017.
We'll give you both full countdowns in this week's issue.
Now, here we go...
ID Thieves, Imposters and Malware Head our New Top Scams List
The growing popularity of social media sites, ransom demands and the Internet of Things shared one thing in common during 2016 -- as sources of significant change in the scams landscape.
As we look back over events of the past year, we see some interesting new trends emerging in our annual Top 10 list of scams.
We base our chart on statistics reported by various consumer agencies plus reports from readers and the findings of our own Internet research.
Let's take a look at how things panned out in 2016 and where they're heading in 2017.
Top Scams in 2016
Here's what we think happened during the past year (with our earlier predictions in parentheses).
1. (1) Phishing and identity theft. This remains the most widespread crime, though it also relates to many of the other scams in our list.
One of the most notable causes of yet another surge in identity theft has been the number of security breaches in which millions of personal records were seized in individual hack attacks on company and other organizational systems.
According to technology site ZDNet, more than 2.2 billion records were stolen in 3,000 data security breaches during 2016 -- that's one for every four people in the planet.
The actual number is likely much higher. For example, in one incident alone, a hack attack on the Myspace social network resulted in 427 million passwords being put up for sale.
2. (2) Imposter scams. The most alarming aspect of this scam -- in which people pretend to be someone they're not -- has been a rise in the number of bogus kidnap scams.
In the worst cases, crooks pretend to be kidnappers, telling frightened parents they're holding their children until a ransom is paid. Often, they use realistic sounds of children screaming in the background.
But the most common imposters are those claiming to be from a local power company and threatening to cut off electricity supplies, bogus police or court officials telling victims they must pay a fine for failing to turn up for jury duty, and fake IRS officials demanding supposedly unpaid taxes.
Another interesting development, which came to the fore during the November elections, was the emergence of fake news sites, which we'll be discussing in more detail in a future issue.
3. (4) Malware. Partly as a result of phishing and hack attacks, criminals have significantly increased their ability to load malware onto victims' PCs.
As usual, there was a steady flow of bogus tech support scams in which crooks trick victims into letting them have access to their computers. But malware also targets the unwary from thousands of Internet sites.
One of the biggest results of this has been a huge rise in ransomware incidents in which victims' PCs are "locked" by the malware until the victim pays a ransom. And even then, they don't always get their data back.
A couple of large organizations, including a hospital, have also been compromised this way.
4. (5) Bogus online sites, robocalls and telesales. The continuing rise in the amount of online shopping keeps this bubbling in the middle of our Top 10 charts.
And despite efforts to outlaw automated robocalls, scammers continue to use them.
Plus, as we noted earlier this year, crooks have begun to use clever computer programs to mimic real human telesales reps, capable of calling hundreds of victims at once.
5. (6) Dating scams. More sad stories have emerged about lonely hearts who fall for the phony charms of online Romeos, who then turn on the sob stories, asking for financial help.
Sometimes they say they want to buy a plane ticket so the couple can meet up. Other times they claim to need help to pay for medical care for a relative.
Sadly, it's not unusual for victims to part with tens of thousands of dollars and to hang on grimly to the belief their "lover" is real, even when others warn them it's a scam.
6. (3) Lottery and sweepstakes scams. A couple of major scams were shut down in 2016, reducing the number of victims targeted. We don't want to say it has disappeared but the scam seems to have been a bit less impactful this past year.
7. (-) Internet of Things (IoT). This was our surprise newcomer of the year. Earlier in the year, in How the Internet of Things Threatens Your Security, we warned about the impending danger of crooks gaining control of networked home devices from TVs to alarm systems.
But the surge came sooner than we thought with reports that hackers were corralling groups of these devices into a huge web from which spamming campaigns and malicious attacks were launched.
In one incident during October, crooks brought one large part of the Internet to its knees by using this web of compromised devices to overwhelm it with work (an attack known as a Distributed Denial of Service or DDoS).
8. (8) Advance fees. Using online classified advertising sites, spamming campaigns, telesales and even snail mail, scammers continue to target victims by sending them big checks and then asking for part of the money to be wired to a third party -- before the original check turns out to be a dud.
Advance fees also include offers of services, like job finding or help with loans, in return for an upfront fee. The jobs and the loans rarely materialize.
9. (9) Social media scams. There are now more social networks than ever, not just Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest, but scores more that target individual age and social groups.
Many of the scams are used for identity theft but there's also a flourishing crooked business in tricking people into sharing "likes" on the promise of a reward, when the real intention is to build up an army of followers that can be sold for marketing purposes.
10. (7) Investment scams. A couple of multi-million-dollar frauds during 2016 keeps this in our charts, but there's also been a steady rise in scams that focus on the latest new-age investment "opportunities" (like rare metals, a carbon-based material known as graphene, and even cannabis farming and pharmaceutical production).
Top Scam Predictions for 2017
Now here's our forecast, in Top 10 order, with the actual 2016 outturn in parentheses.
1. (1) Phishing and ID theft. Despite the best efforts of security software providers, data breaches, bogus tech support scams and many other tricks designed to snare unsuspecting home users will keep this firmly at the top of our list.
2. (2) Imposter scams. We don't see any sign either of a reduction in imposter scams. Expect to see a big surge around tax filing times, while scammers will undoubtedly come up with a whole batch of new ideas designed to get unsuspecting victims to hand over their money.
3. (3) Malware. The explosive growth of Internet usage and user failure to keep security software updated will see further growth in the downloading of malware onto both individual and corporate PC systems.
Experts say more than 300 million new and different pieces of malware are being produced every year.
4. (7) Internet of Things. We'll be using more and more connected devices in our homes in 2017 but, as we previously pointed out, manufacturers don't always treat security as seriously as they should.
The result? More home devices will become infected and used for various types of theft and spying.
5. (4) Bogus online sites, robocalls and telesales. As we mentioned in our 2016 review above, the use of ultra-smart computer programs that can mimic real human conversation is spreading.
This will enable scammers to step up the number of illegal -- and convincing -- calls they make.
6. (6) Dating scams. An estimated 40 million Americans use online dating sites, and scammers are everywhere, trying to trick victims with fake photos and sob stories.
A lot of these new scams are coming out of Nigeria, replacing the old and well-used "help me get my fortune" and "secret inheritance" types of scams most people are now aware of.
7. (9) Social media scams. This is another area where we expect to see crooks become more inventive in 2017. Social media sites are now used by virtually everyone who has a computer or smartphone.
Towards the end of 2016, we saw a return of the "secret sister" pyramid scam, in which victims are encouraged to buy and send a gift to someone on the promise that they will receive 10 in return (which they don't). Expect to see more of this type of trick.
8. (8) Advance fees. There are just too many ways scammers can trick people into untraceably wiring them money. Plus, as we've previously reported, scammers have now upped the pace of their crooked tricks by demanding payment by gift cards or reloadable debit cards.
9. (6) Lottery and sweepstakes scams. Anti-fraud teams in the United States, Canada and Jamaica (where many lottery scams originate) are keeping up the pressure on scammers, while widespread publicity is helping to get the message out to the public.
It will still be a major crime though.
10. (10) Investment Scams. This one will never go away as long as people have money to invest and cling to the belief that you can make easy money big-time!
That's enough crystal ball gazing for now. As the movement in our Top Scams chart shows, there's always a degree of uncertainty about the tricks that crooks are lining up for us.
The only thing we can be sure of is that they have us in their sights -- so take care!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!