Top Financial Scams Affecting Americans

Top Financial Scams Affecting Americans

March 24, 2021

Tagged As: Personal

Though many businesses have suffered under the COVID-19 pandemic, the illicit business of scamming has unfortunately grown. Fraudsters have taken advantage of these uncertain times to scam people of all ages.

In 2020, the Federal Trade Commission (which tracks fraud reports across the U.S.), received 2.2 million fraud reports for a total of $3.3 billion in losses. Younger people (ages 20-29) reported losing money to fraud more often than older people, but when people aged 70+ reported a loss, the median amount was much higher.

Although fraud can take many forms, certain types of scams and fraud are on the rise.

These are the top financial scams affecting Americans today.

COVID-19 Scams

Scammers are having a field day with COVID-19, taking advantage of uncertainty around stimulus checks, vaccine distribution, and people’s need to feel informed to perform a variety of fraud. That includes everything from financial scams to phishing – using malicious software and false credentials to obtain personal information from unwitting victims.

As a reminder, you won’t have to pay to receive a stimulus check or to sign up for a vaccine, and you should be careful about who you send personal information to. Fraudsters can be skilled at creating convincing email addresses and website formats. When in doubt, be sure that the web domain you’re visiting or receiving communications from is an official source of information. That usually means the website ends in .gov, not anything else!

Identity Theft

Identity theft involves a fraudster stealing personal information such as your name, credit card number, insurance information, social security number, and other important data. Thieves use this info to access your bank accounts, open credit cards and loans in your name, file false tax returns to collect your refund, etc. According to the FTC, government benefit identity theft reports are up nearly 3000% in 2020 – an incredibly alarming statistic that demonstrates the need for vigilance has never been higher.

The best way to protect yourself against identity theft is to pay close attention to your finances, credit report, and bills. If you see financial information tied to your name that you don’t recognize, be sure to visit for a list of steps to take based on your circumstances.

Imposter Scams

In an imposter scam, a scammer pretends to be someone you trust, such as a friend or family member, a bank employee, or a Social Security official, or others. They may ask you to transfer money or provide personal information, such as your banking credentials, account or debit card number, PIN, or other sensitive data. 

With how prominent the digital world is in our everyday lives, one particular form of imposter scam is on the rise: “romance” scams.

Romance Scams

Nearly 1 in 4 dollars in fraud reported that was sent by bank transfer or payment in 2020 were to romance scammers, also known as online dating scammers. It is the costliest scam reported to the FTC, with $304 million lost. And unfortunately, the reported money losses have quadrupled since 2016.

Romance scammers entrap people on dating sites or social media networks by pretending to be interested in dating, but with a financial catch. They may present themselves as physically unavailable – overseas, in the military, on an oil rig, etc. – and in need of funds. They may claim to need these funds to travel to meet the scam victim, or have some sort of other issue that needs money to resolve.

The most insidious aspect of romance scams is how hard it can be to convince someone who has fallen victim to one that the person they’re sending money to is not real, or at least not really interested in love. These fraudsters prey on human emotions to make their victims avoid second-guessing the money they’re sending. And depending on how the money is sent, it could be difficult to trace and return.

The best way to avoid a romance scam is to be skeptical and use critical judgment when contacted by a potential suitor online. If it seems like “love without first sight,” there might be more to the situation than meets the eye.

Fake Checks

One scam that affects millennials more than other age groups is fake check fraud. In this scam, a fraudster presents the victim with a check that seems real, because the money shows up in their account. However, just because the money is provisionally available, that doesn’t mean it’s really there. That’s because banks are required by law to make deposited funds available within the first two business days after they’ve been received (unless there are certain mitigating factors) – while fraudulent checks may take longer than that to uncover. 

Scammers take advantage of this window to make you believe they have held up their end of the bargain, whatever that may be. Meanwhile, there’s always some sort of reason why they need some of your funds, such as:

  • Jobs & Income Opportunities:

Whether “mystery shopping” or putting advertising on your vehicle, there will be some reason why the fraudster needs you to spend a certain amount of money – even though you’re the one who’s supposed to be earning!

  • Online Sales:

Check fraud scams are common on online classified sites where fraudsters present sellers with fake checks in order to get the item they want for free. In other cases, they’ll ask for money to be sent to a “delivery company” and “reimburse” the victim with fake funds.

  • Lotteries and grants:

No matter what the promised winnings, scammers always need something in exchange.

  • Loans:

In exchange for a false lump-sum, scammers ask for a down payment of sorts.

To protect yourself against fake check scams, it’s important to be aware that just because a check has “cleared” and you can see the money in your account doesn’t mean it’s real. Before you start spending money you receive from a check – especially those from people you don’t know personally – make sure to verify it isn’t fraudulent.

You can call us at 1-800-445-5725 (1-800-HILLSBK), visit any Hills Bank location, or chat with us online to check on the status of your checks, if you suspect you may have been targeted by a financial scam, or if you have any other questions about your finances.

If something doesn’t feel right, make sure to think twice before parting ways with your money! To learn more about how to protect yourself against scams and fraud and red flags to watch for, visit