These are the 8 biggest scams people are most likely to fall for online

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  • A new study sheds light on the channels through which scammers are raking in the most money.
  • Fraudulent online purchases, fake tech support schemes, and employment scams are among the most successful methods of online grifting.
  • The median losses reported by survey respondents was $600.
  • Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.

One in 10 adults in the US will fall victim to fraud every year. That figure is only rising, and it jumped by 34% in 2018, according to the Federal Trade Commission. The vast majority of that fraud takes place online.

A new study conducted by the Better Business Bureau, FINRA, and the Stanford Center for Longevity sheds light on the channels through which scammers are raking in the most money, based on interviews with 1,408 consumers who submitted tips to the BBB between 2015 and 2018. The median losses reported by respondents was $600.

The study shows that about half of people who were contacted by scammers did not engage, detecting the fraud immediately. Meanwhile, 30% of respondents engaged and did not lose money, while 23% engaged and lost money to a scammer.

While scammers most frequently contacted potential victims using phone and email, relatively few people lost money from phone and email scams compared to scams on other platforms. By contrast, 91% of targets who were contacted by scammers over social media engaged, and 53% lost money. Similarly, 81% of respondents who encountered fraud via a website engaged, and 50% lost money.

Here are the scams that people fall for online, according to the study's findings, ranked from least to most likely to separate victims from their money.

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8. Fake tax collection scams

8. Fake tax collection scams

By this point, people are pretty good at sniffing out bogus tax collection scams, the study found.

The study's authors define this scam as one in which "imposters pose as government tax collection agents and use threats of immediate arrest or other scare tactics to convince their targets to pay, often requesting that the target load money onto gift cards as payment."

Fake IRS scams were one of the most highly reported types of grift in the study but had the lowest rates of engagement and people losing money — only 15% of respondents said they engaged with scammers, and only 3% reported losing money.

7. Phishing scams

7. Phishing scams

Of the respondents who reported phishing scams, 18% said they engaged and just 4% said they lost money.

"Phishing" is a catch-all term used to describe scammers who pretend to be a trusted person, like a banker, service provider, or mortgage company, in order to trick victims into sharing private information that can be used against them.

Despite their low rate of success, phishing scams were also among the most frequently reported types of scams, the study found.

6. Fake debt collection scams

6. Fake debt collection scams

Similar to fake tax collection, this scam hinges on grifters pretending to be debt collectors and harassing victims to pay debts that they don't actually owe.

However, this approach was significantly more effective at fooling people than fake tax collection scams. According to the study, 38% of respondents who reported debt collection scams engaged with scammers, and 12% lost money as a result.

5. Phony sweepstakes, lotteries, and prizes

5. Phony sweepstakes, lotteries, and prizes

In this scam, grifters trick victims into believing they have won a sweepstakes or lottery but must first pay a fee up front in order to claim their prize.

This method has relatively high rates of successfully fleecing people: 59% of respondents who reported encountering phony sweepstakes engaged with scammers, and 15% lost money.

According to the authors of the study, this scam disproportionately impacts people who report living with financial insecurity.

4. Fake checks or money orders

4. Fake checks or money orders

Of the respondents who reported scams involving fake checks or money orders, 64% engaged and 22% lost money.

This convoluted scheme relies on scammers sending victims a fake check, getting them to deposit it, and then asking for some of the "money" back via wire transfer due to a supposed overpayment — hoping that banks don't notice the check is fake until it's too late.

3. Employment scams

3. Employment scams

In this scam, grifters pose as potential employers and fool victims into thinking they're being offered a job or considered for a position. From there, they trick victims into sending money to be spent on "training" or "equipment," or carry out a fake check scam using a bogus paycheck.

This scam was one of the most successful at getting victims to engage. Of the respondents who reported employment scams, 81% engaged with scammers and 25% lost money

2. Fake tech support scams

2. Fake tech support scams

Ironically, tech support scams typically take the form of an advertisement, email, or pop-up that warns users their computer may be infected with a bug or virus. Once users engage, scammers then pretend to be an IT professional and badger victims to hand over money in exchange for phony tech support.

While not as many users engage with this scam as with employment scams, it has a high success rate at getting victims to spend money. Of respondents who reported tech support scams, 64% engaged and 32% lost money.

1. Online purchase scams

1. Online purchase scams

Online purchase scams were among the most highly reported and successful scams documented by the study, with 84% of respondents who reported online purchase scams engaging with them and 47% losing money as a result.

According to the study, these scams proliferate on websites like Craigslist, eBay, Kjiji, and other websites that directly connect sellers and buyers, and can take many forms.

On the most basic level, scammers list items, collect payment from buyers, and then never ship the goods. Conversely, scammers will sometimes pay for items with a bogus check in order to ask for a refund for "accidentally" overpaying.

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