Deceptive scammers impersonate trusted brands (Amazon, Geek Squad) to steal money. Pexels

Have you ever gotten a call claiming your Amazon account is compromised or a frantic email urging you to renew your nonexistent Geek Squad protection? You're not alone.

Scammers constantly impersonate well-known brands to trick people into giving up personal information or money. So, which brands are the biggest targets, and how can you stay vigilant?

This article explores the top 5 most impersonated brands, why they are targeted, and the best practices to shield yourself from these deceptive tactics.

How Scammers Impersonate Trusted Brands

A new report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reveals a concerning trend: scammers are increasingly impersonating trusted brands to steal from consumers. Among the most targeted in 2023 were tech support leader Geek Squad (Best Buy), online retail giant Amazon, and online payment platform PayPal.

However, the brands that resulted in the highest reported losses were Microsoft and Publishers Clearing House, with consumers losing a staggering $60 million and $49 million, respectively. The FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network data shows roughly 7,000 complaints for both Microsoft and Publishers Clearing House impersonations.

In contrast, Best Buy and its Geek Squad were the most impersonated brands, with the FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network receiving roughly 52,000 complaints. Consumers reported losing a total of $15 million to these scams.

While Microsoft and Publishers Clearing House scams resulted in higher financial losses, Best Buy and its Geek Squad were the most impersonated brands.

The FTC's Consumer Sentinel Network compiles complaints from a wide range of sources, including AARP Fraud Watch Network, United Parcel Service, Better Business Bureau, state Attorneys General, Publishers Clearing House, and Microsoft Corp.

Cyber Crime Center and the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau, it's important to note that the data used in this report is specifically based on complaints received by the FTC.

According to the FTC, Microsoft impersonation reports are generally classified as tech support scams. Publishers Clearing House impersonation scams typically fall under scams involving prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries.

Calls from fake Publishers Clearing House employees often pressure you to pay fees or taxes upfront to claim your prize. In a recent scam, a Wayne County consumer reported being contacted by imposters who claimed to represent Publishers Clearing House.

The scammers offered to 'escort' the consumer to the bank to withdraw money for upfront fees in order to claim a $1 million prize and a 2023 Porsche. Thankfully, the consumer recognized the scam and did not lose any money.

Why These Brands Are Top Targets

Consumers continue to lose significant sums to tech support and sweepstakes scams. Scammers also employ creative tactics, like a recent case in China where a man was imprisoned for artificially using thousands of smartphones to inflate live-stream viewer counts.

A Troy woman tragically lost nearly $700,000 in a months-long Publishers Clearing House impersonation scam. The culprit, posing as an attorney, convinced her to pay various fees, including storage costs for a nonexistent prize vehicle.

Another Troy resident, an 83-year-old woman, fell victim to a tech support scam in May. A pop-up message on her computer instructed her to call a supposedly Microsoft Security number to resolve a lock on her device.

The Microsoft impersonation scams start with a fake security pop-up warning on your computer with a number to call for "help." Of course, you're calling the scammers. "If you get this kind of pop-up window on your computer, don't call the number," the FTC warns. "Real security warnings and messages will never ask you to call a phone number."

Following the pop-up's instructions, the Troy woman contacted the provided number. The scammer then informed her that her computer was compromised and her bank account was at risk. This is unsurprising, as a 2023 report highlights that online fraud is a growing concern for many people, potentially even exceeding worries about other crimes.

How To Avoid The Scams

To avoid being scammed online, it's essential to be vigilant and informed. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) offers valuable resources to help consumers steer clear of impersonation scams. You should also:

  • Never transfer money to "protect" it based on claims of suspicious activity in your accounts; legitimate institutions will never ask for this.
  • Be wary of anyone requesting verification codes, as scammers often use this tactic to gain access to your personal information.
  • Never share verification codes with anyone, even if they claim to be from a trusted institution.
  • Stay vigilant and cautious to protect yourself from online scams.
  • Utilize resources provided by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) to stay informed about impersonation scams.

By following these tips and leveraging resources from the FTC, you can significantly reduce the risk of falling victim to online scams. Always remain vigilant and skeptical of unsolicited requests for money or personal information. Your proactive steps today can safeguard your financial security and personal data in the future.