Scammers impersonating FTC agents are averaging $7,000 per theft—more than double what they were stealing 5 years ago

Scam FTC GettyImages e1710953795641

Scammers pretending to work for the Federal Trade Commission isn’t new, but they’ve perhaps never been quite so successful.

So far in 2024, faux FTC agents have been stealing about $7,000 per scam, a marked increase from the $3,000 figure the agency reported in 2019.

“The FTC will never tell consumers to move their money to ‘protect’ it. The FTC will never send consumers to a Bitcoin ATM, tell them to go buy gold bars, or demand they withdraw cash and take it to someone in person,” the agency said in a warning notice on Tuesday.

The agency didn’t specify a number for 2024 but did say it’s been receiving “many complaints” from concerned citizens saying they’ve been asked to move, transfer, or wire funds by a person claiming to be with the FTC. In 2022, the FTC received 197,573 complaints about scammers pretending to be government agents, and last year that number rose to 228,282.

Scams, generally speaking, remain a growing problem. The Consumer Sentinel Network, a secure database managed by the FTC, reported last year that fraud losses reached $10 billion, an all-time high and a 14% increase from 2022.

“Digital tools are making it easier than ever to target hard-working Americans, and we see the effects of that in the data we’re releasing today,” Samuel Levine, director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection, said last month about the latest fraud data.

In addition to never asking for money, no one from the FTC will be threatening arrest or deportation over the phone or a messaging app. The agency also highlighted current guidelines it’s created for spotting potential scammers, including some who’ve taken to impersonating Amazon employees.

‘Talk to someone you trust’

Last month, a story by the financial advice columnist for The Cut, Charlotte Cowles, went viral after she described in the piece how she fell for a scam that checked all those boxes. In her first-person column, she recounted how she ended up putting $50,000 in a shoebox and handing it over to a stranger.

The elaborate ruse Cowles described began with someone calling her and posing as an Amazon representative asking about some suspicious purchases. After convincing Cowles that her identity had been stolen, the fake Amazon representative connected her to someone else who identified themselves as an FTC investigator. That led to Cowles talking to a fake CIA agent who instructed her to put the money in a box and hand it over to an “undercover agent” who pulled up in an SUV.

“When I did tell friends what had happened,” Cowles wrote, “it seemed like everyone had a horror story. One friend’s dad, a criminal-defense attorney, had been scammed out of $1.2 million. Another person I know, a real-estate developer, was duped into wiring $450,000 to someone posing as one of his contractors. Someone else knew a Wall Street executive who had been conned into draining her 401(k) by some guy she met at a bar.”

FTC data shows that in 2023 about one in five people lost money to a scam. A 2019 report by the Consumer Sentinel Network noted how people in their 20s and 30s were more likely to fall for scams but that those over 40 tended to have bigger losses.

“Fraud affects every generation,” the FTC wrote. “If someone has contacted you to demand money or your personal information—stop. Talk to someone you trust. And check out the request.”

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