Beware of the stranger on the phone — it could be a scammer.
Fraudsters are increasingly picking up the phone and using old-school tricks to steal your money by pretending to be a government worker or a family member in trouble. Impostor scams overtook identity theft last year for the first time, becoming the second-most reported fraud behind debt-collection scams, in which fake debt collectors say a loan payment is due, according to the U.S. Federal Trade Commission.
Overall, there were nearly 1.3 million fraud-related complaints reported last year, up about two percent from 2015. Most people said they were scammed after a phone call.
That's because fraudsters need to build some kind of relationship with the victim in order to convince them to hand over money, said Katherine Hutt, a spokeswoman at the Better Business Bureau. Victims paid out a total of $744 million to fraudsters last year, with the average one losing more than $1,100, according to the FTC.
The best way to protect yourself? Get familiar with the tricks thieves use. Fraudsters keep recycling well-known scenarios, but change small details.
"There's always going to be a new twist to an old scam," said Hutt. "As long as you recognize that tactic, you are less likely to get caught up in the scam."
Here are a few common ones to look out for: