These 3 Scams Are the Most Widespread — by Far

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Scam victim looks at her phone
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Cases of fraud dipped a bit in 2021, but the amount of money lost to scams rose, according to a recent report by, a project of the National Consumers League.

The median amount of money lost to fraud last year — $800 — was the highest since 2012. In particular, investment scams exploded 168% higher, thanks to the growth of cryptocurrency.

But although growing fast, investment fraud still ranks far behind a trio of scams that continue to bedevil consumers everywhere.

The following were the three biggest scams of 2021, by far. Find out how to avoid them.

3. Phishing/spoofing

Upset senior in shock
yurakrasil /

Anyone with an email address knows this scam has become a regrettable part of daily life. In this form of fraud, the crook emails you and pretends to be a well-known source. The scammer then asks you to enter or confirm personal information before bilking you.

These scams made up just over 17% of all complaints that received in 2021, with victims losing a median amount of $800.

2. Internet: General merchandise

Upset woman with a package
Prostock-studio /

Shopping on the internet generally is safe, as long as you are smart about it — such as avoiding using a debit card to shop online. Still, even the most cautious shoppers can let down their guard and end up victims of fraud.

In this type of scam, the goods you purchase either never are delivered or are mispresented. Scams in this category made up just over 19% of all types of reports to, and victims lost a median of $500.

1. Prizes/sweepstakes/free gifts

Senior getting scammed
Monkey Business Images / says these scams typically involve a notice that you have won a prize or money and that you need to send money to the fraudster to claim your winnings. In many cases, you might be asked to make additional payments before getting your prize or money — which, alas, never arrives.

Sweepstakes scams were the top form of fraud perpetrated in 2021, making up more than 35% of all reports received. Victims lost a median of $795 after being targeted in these scams.

Tips for avoiding scams

An older woman in glasses smiles while holding a smartphone
VGstockstudio /

It is easy to assume you are too smart to become a victim of a scam. But that confidence is misplaced. Anyone can fall prey to a fraudster. All it takes is to let your guard down for a moment.

So, to avoid becoming the next fraud casualty, follow these tips from

  • Use caution when strangers ask for payment. Being asked to make an upfront payment should never be a condition of receiving a prize or other reward.
  • Check independent references. Go to your favorite search engine and look for independent coverage of the company associated with your prize or reward. This can include news coverage or crowdsourced user reviews.
  • View typos as a “red flag.” It is common for scammers to use a popular website or company name, but to modify it, such as with one letter missing or added.
  • Verify the identity of the sender. In many cases, a fraudster will send a note under the guise of it coming from someone you trust, such as a friend or relative. If you receive such a note and it seems fishy, text or email the friend or relative in question to confirm the note came from your loved one.

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