AUSTIN (KXAN) — Nearly $75,000 was lost to scammers in the Austin area last year, according to the Better Business Bureau. The agency is now revealing the five most prevailing scams of the year.
BBB reports it received an average of 18 scam reports each month in 2022 from Austin-area consumers and business. Statewide, about $1.9 million was lost to scams over the year.
Online purchases were the most common scam reported in Austin, accounting for 29% of all reports.
Here are the five most common scams reported to BBB in 2022:
1. Online Purchases
BBB said online purchase scams varied across a “wide range” of products. A total of $44,780 was lost to this type of scam, with some consumers losing thousands of dollars on a single interaction.
The most common product resulting in a loss was pets, while vehicles and outboard boat motors were the more costly product. Other items that consumers attempted to purchase in the Austin area include health and beauty products, kitchen appliances and hay.
According to BBB, buyers are asked to send money through an online payment system in most cases, such as PayPal or Zelle, or wire transfers for more expensive products.
To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends avoiding deals that seem too good to be true, using credit cards when completing online transactions, looking up reviews for products on other websites and verifying there are multiple contact methods for the company you’re purchasing from, like a working phone number and a real physical address.
Employment scams accounted for 12% of the Austin-area total, resulting in $8,420 lost.
BBB said this type of scam often involves someone impersonating a well-known business when contacting victims. If the victim shares sensitive information to who they think is a potential employer, they are at increased risk of identity theft.
Employment scammers will often entice people to apply for the fake position by offering high wages, flexible hours and remote work opportunities. Another common trick is they’ll often offer to pay for the applicant to buy materials needed to set up an at-home office.
In the Austin area, most employment scam reports involved data entry, package reshipment or clerical positions, according to BBB.
To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends being wary of unsolicited job offers or rushed interview processes, insisting on communicating with the hiring manager outside of email or text, verifying the information by checking the official job board for the company, not depositing suspicious or overpaid checks and not sending money back due to overpayment through gift cards, wire transfers or other non-traditional methods.
BBB calls phishing scams “one of the oldest and most adaptable strategies used to obtain sensitive information from businesses and consumers.” This type of scam accounted for 7% of all reports in 2022 in the Austin area, amounting to $2,060 lost.
Phishing scams are often emails or texts from someone claiming to represent the fraud prevention department of well-known companies, like Netflix or Amazon, or your bank or utility company. The emails or texts often direct you to a link to verify your account details, so the scammers can obtain that information from you.
USPS, Geek Squad and local banks were the most common businesses used in Austin-area phishing scams in 2022, according to BBB.
To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends avoiding clicking on links from emails and texts, verifying account security directly on the official website or app of the company, understanding policies that companies have about what personal information they’ll ask for over the phone or via email, remaining calm when contacted about potential account compromise and being wary of claims that threaten arrest, fines or impacts on your credit.
4. Sweepstakes, Prizes and Lottery
This type of scam involves supposed winners of the lottery offering some of their winnings to strangers by claiming they want to “pay it forward.” To claim the money, the victim is directed to a website to input personal information so a check can be mailed to them. This type of scam accounted for 6% of all reports in the Austin area in 2022, amounting to $355 lost.
Other versions reported in the Austin area include free products, such as Dyson vacuums or free travel packages, in exchange for taking a survey. Victims who provide money are told they are doing so to pay for taxes or processing fees, which a legitimate sweepstakes company does not require, according to BBB.
To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends not providing any payment for a supposedly free gift, being wary of emails from lottery winners who say they want to divide their winnings among multiple people, verifying that you actually entered into the drawing of a sweepstake and asking how they obtained your contact information, trusting your instincts and avoiding offers that seem too good to be true. BBB says it is unlikely to be awarded an expensive or high-end item for taking a single survey, and it’s uncommon to be selected as the winner of a sweepstake that you did not enter.
5. Debt Collection
This type of scam accounted for 6% of all reports in the Austin area last year. Debt collection scams often involved someone claiming legal action has begun or will begin against you unless you take immediate action. BBB said scare tactics, like threats of arrest, lawsuits or effects on your taxes, are often used.
Scammers may claim outstanding debts are due to credit cards or unpaid tickets, utility bills or taxes. In the Austin area, reports of this type of scam involved unpaid medical or hospital bills, car titles and child support.
To avoid this type of scam, BBB recommends avoiding making immediate payments over the phone or through provided links, checking debt collection policies of the business or agency because most debts do not need to be paid in full immediately, avoiding using caller ID or federal badges as sole proof of credibility because scammers can spoof numbers or fabricate badges and only submitting payments through an official payment portal rather than via wire transfers, cryptocurrencies or mobile banking apps.
If you believe you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it to the BBB via their website. BBB said the information you provide may prevent another person from falling victim because it helps them educate the public about ongoing scam tactics.