Top scams of 2018

Created date

April 29th, 2019
A sign features the words Scam Alert

Every year, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) releases its list of top scams perpetrated on the American public. The list is created using data from the FTC’s nationwide consumer sentinel database, which culls all the scams reported to the agency by consumers, whether by phone or via the Internet.


The 2018 list is out and, for the first time ever, imposter scams were the number one most frequently reported scam. Debt collection scams were number two on the list followed by identity theft.

An imposter scam is when someone claims to represent a well-known and trusted organization—most often a government agency like the IRS or Social Security Administration. These scammers typically reach their prey via the telephone. When an unsuspecting consumer answers their call, they are told they owe money and could face penalties or even jail if they don’t pay.

The scammers will typically demand payment in the form of a wire transfer or through gift cards—two forms of payment that are impossible to recover once they have been released to the scammer.

Remember, no government agency will ever demand to be paid via wire transfer or with gift cards, and such a request is a sure sign that the person who called you is up to no good.

Consumers reported losing a total of nearly $488 million to imposter scams in 2018 with a median loss of $500.

Overall, the FTC received nearly three million complaints from consumers in 2018. They lost a total of nearly $1.48 billion to fraud in 2018, which represents a 38% increase from 2017. Remember, these figures only account for people who reported being scammed. Since most victims never report being scammed, the actual total is far greater.

“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” says Andrew Smith, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “You should hang up immediately and report it to the FTC at ftc

Generational differences

Interestingly, younger consumers were more likely to lose money to scammers than older consumers. Some 43% of people in their twenties lost money compared to only 15% for those in their 70s.

However, older victims of fraud tended to lose more money than their younger counterparts. The median loss for people in their 70s was $751 compared to a median loss of $400 for people in their 20s.

The list also broke down scam reports by state with Florida, Georgia, and Nevada topping the list.