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recent Gallup poll combined with a new Federal Trade Commission (FTC) estimate of fraud losses show that criminals are stealing 10s or 100s of billion dollars from 21 million Americans each year. The perpetrators are mainly foreign organized crime gangs. Increased public-private partnership can make a difference, as shown by recent joint actions in the UK and Australia that are showing signs of progress.

US citizens face an increasing torrent of cyber attacks in the form of fake emails, scam text messages, malicious pop-up ads, social media impersonators, and spoofed phone calls. Criminals have learned how to exploit our technology and use ever-more sophisticated techniques to scam individuals. For example, an FBI Public Service Announcement in September 2023 warned of a sharp rise in a complex scam that layers tech support imposters, impersonators who assume bank or government personas, and installation of remote access software.

As a result of the growing sophistication of organized crime syndicates, scam victims and losses have skyrocketed in recent years. FBI data show that reported fraud losses have increased nearly seven-fold since 2017. Worse yet, the chair of the FTC recently said that artificial intelligence could “turbocharge” fraud.

Stop Scams Alliance, a nonprofit dedicated to combating scams, worked with Gallup to conduct the first Gallup poll to address scams. The October 2023 poll revealed that 8% of those polled said that they had been scammed in the last year, which translates to roughly 21 million US adults. That’s larger than the population of New York state.

  • In other words, more than 57,000 Americans are being scammed each day.

We all know of someone who has been scammed. It can happen to anybody, including your friends and family. Scams affect all ages—in fact, adults under age 50 report higher victimization rates than those over 50.  

How much are we losing to scammers?

An October 2023 FTC report estimated that total fraud losses in the US range from $20.5 billion to as high as $137.4 billion. The lower figure, which the FTC called “very conservative,” assumed most people reported their loss; the higher figure assumed few people report, which is almost certainly true given the new Gallup poll.

  • Losses in the $100 billion range would mean that consumer scam losses are equal to the annual revenue of companies like UPS, Citigroup, or Bank of America. Or about the size of the annual budget of the Department of Homeland Security.

Who are the perpetrators? 

Tech-based scams are mainly perpetrated by foreign organized crime gangs. According to British government research, most fraud has an international component, and organized crime plays a significant role. Scam proceeds also have been used to fund terrorist activity, according to the Royal United Services Institute. At least some fraud is conducted by nation states. The FBI has seen North Korea’s state-backed hackers steal money and cryptocurrency through fraud and cyber crime. 

Law enforcement agencies have identified scammers in such countries as India; West Africa (especially Nigeria); Jamaica; and Southeast Asia (especially Myanmar and Cambodia).  Many of the gangs in the lawless corners of Southeast Asia are controlled by Chinese crime bosses. In June 2023, Interpol issued a global warning, saying that scams have fueled a “global human trafficking crisis.” 

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