Consumers in the U.S. lost more than $4 billion to investment scams in 2022, and this year is expected to be worse.
This rip-off trend is growing as investment scams become increasingly sophisticated and widespread, taking advantage of the rise of digital technologies. Compared to 2021, the number of losses grew by 116%.
Many of these scams use social media platforms, websites, mobile apps, and other channels to reach potential victims, according to data analyzed by Atlas VPN researchers and several U.S. government agencies.
Since 2018, investment scams in the U.S. have grown by nearly 4,000%. According to filed fraud reports, fraudsters bilked $94.5 million using investment scams four years ago.
Some 8,392 (57% of all) fraud reports indicated a loss. By 2022, the number of reports increased significantly, with 77,599 reports (74% of all) revealing a loss of money in investment scams.
According to the investment firm Charles Schwab, one in 10 investors will eventually be victimized by an investment scam. Seniors are targeted more often than younger people.
Investment scams have existed since the invention of currency. According to Mark N. Vena, CEO and principal analyst at SmartTech Research, the web makes investment scams particularly easy on the unsuspecting.
That happens because many individuals fail to research investments and trust their instincts. He noted that they do not check — or otherwise ignore — valid quantitative data to assess an investment opportunity.
“Even more onerous are investment scams that lure people, especially non-technically savvy individuals, with fake profiles or catfishing schemes. Fake cryptocurrency-style investment schemes litter the landscape,” Vena told the E-Commerce Times.
Investment Fraud Statistics
Scammers are growing their stolen rewards as they become more skilled in using fraud tactics online. In 2018, the median loss from investment scams was $2,262. The median loss from investment scams in 2022 was $21,727.
A growing part of the investment thievery involved phony crypto deals. By far, the most common payment method in such scams was cryptocurrencies. Investors lost over $880 million worth of crypto as per 30,162 reported investment fraud cases.
Atlas VPN’s researchers looked at theft report activity statewide. Some states experienced more scam incidents than others.
For instance, residents in Nevada were the most common target of scammers. People in that state reported 27,611 attempts of fraud through social media alone.
Nevada residents also reported 316.5 investment-related scams per million. California residents were second with 272.7 reports per million.
Fraudsters used particular contact and payment methods more commonly, noted Vilius Kardelis, cybersecurity writer at Atlas VPN.
“Individuals need to be aware of these risks and take steps to protect themselves from such scams,” he offered.
Unaware Investors at Increasing Risk
According to the Federal Trade Commission, investment scams are on a troubling upswing. It nearly doubled in growth in just one year.
Investment scams lure victims with promises to teach them how to make money quickly, easily, and with low risk, mainly in the financial or real estate markets.
Scams sometimes start with a free seminar, notes the FTC. Then scammers later charge a hefty fee for their “proven” investment tricks.
“The internet makes it extremely easy to create contact details such as fake websites or emails that look incredibly authentic as bad actors are getting more creative and sophisticated,” offered Vena.
He recommended that individuals ignore investment opportunities from sources they cannot validate.
“This general rule remains true: if it seems too good to be true, especially from an investment return standpoint, there is the highest probability that it is a scam,” he said.
Fraud Tactics To Avoid
Consumers filed 2.4 million fraud reports last year to the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network. According to the FTC, three primary investment categories are perfected by fraudsters: coaching scams, real estate seminar scams, and precious metals and coin investment scams. Here is how to avoid them, according to the FTC:
Investment Coaching Scams: Offer a so-called expert’s “patented,” “tested,” or “proven” strategy on how to make money investing. They promise their approach will set you up for life. Avoid online ads and infomercials that offer free events and free introductory videos. Those are typically followed by solicitations to pay a hefty fee to get the promised coaching. Testimonials presented are worthless since you have no way to confirm their stories.
Real Estate Investment Seminar Scams: Both in-person and online, promote “risk-free” training or business coaching systems. The promotional materials and sales pitches often make over-the-top claims. Typical cons promise big money fast with no experience or training, even working part-time from home. Little or no coaching happens, and the buy-in costs are exorbitant. The reality is that most people never make their investments back. Real estate investment scams often use fake testimonials and pay people to endorse their programs.
Precious Metals and Coin Investment Scams: Hype the urgency of acting while the opportunity lasts. Scammers lie about their credentials and experience in these markets. Rarely do they deliver what they promise. They just take your money and disappear.
Don’t Fall for Crypto Scams
Crypto assets investment offers are one of the newest scams. Apply the same sage advice that you have heard incessantly about advertising. Watch out for the same promises of high investment returns with little or no risk that are classic warning signs of investment fraud.
Fraudsters often post fabricated historical returns on their websites, showing high investment returns.
Carefully review all materials, ask questions, and refer to the crypto information and search tool on Investor.gov.
Be Wary of Social Media Come-Ons
Social media and investment fraud go hand-in-hand, warns the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission. Fraudsters often use social media to target their investor scam victims. Never make investment decisions solely from the details you get on social media platforms and apps.
It is easy for scammers to contact many people quickly and easily at a bargain price. They post information on social media that looks credible.
Fraudsters can be anonymous or impostors. They make up fake credentials and profiles, so never contact a supposed investor on social media.
Instead, use contact information or the website address in reliable directories. Only contact a broker or investment adviser using the contact information you verify independently, advised the SEC.
Precious Metal Investment Precautions
Check out market realities before you ante up to pay for bullion, bullion coins, collectible coins, or gold. Be sure to check out the Commodity Futures Trading Commission’s precious metals fraud advisory.
Also, be prepared to ask questions. Investors need to be less believing and rely on skepticism when assessing possible investment opportunities.