Column: Better Business Bureau, FTC hosting fraud prevention event

Staff photo / Chattanooga Better Business Bureau President Michele Mason
Staff photo / Chattanooga Better Business Bureau President Michele Mason

Looking to protect yourself from fraud, identity theft and scams? Wondering about the best way to avoid contractor fraud, shop for a used car or be safe online shopping?

While we talk about these topics at different times throughout the year, there's a special time designated for government agencies, consumer protection groups and organizations like BBB to team up and put a concerted focus toward sharing tips and resources to help people understand their consumer rights and ways to avoid frauds and scams. That's known as National Consumer Protection Week, taking place this year March 3-9.

As part of National Consumer Protection Week, your BBB is proud to be co-hosting a free fraud-prevention event in Chattanooga with partners from the Federal Trade Commission, the Tennessee Attorney General's Office, the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance, AARP Tennessee and the Mayor's Council on Livability and Aging. The event will be held on 10:30 a.m.-noon March 7 at the Family Justice Center at 5705 Uptain Road in Chattanooga. Doors will open at 10:15 a.m.

An expert panel will be on hand to take questions and share information about the most common types of frauds and schemes targeting Tennesseans and Georgians.

The panel will consist of Anna Burns, FTC regional director for the Southeast Region; Claire Marsalis, director of the Tennessee Attorney General's Office Consumer Affairs Division; Rachel Carden, director of investor education for the Tennessee Department of Commerce & Insurance; Michele Mason, president of the Better Business Bureau serving Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia, and Dennis Valade, trainer for the AARP-Tennessee.

The need for fraud prevention information and resources is stronger than ever. The FTC just released its 2023 Consumer Sentinel Data Book, which shows that people lost approximately $10 billion to scams in 2023 — $1 billion more than during 2022, and the highest ever annual losses reported to the FTC.

The FTC noted that although it saw increased dollars lost to fraud, the number of reported fraud cases was nearly the same as 2022, indicating that people are losing more money during fraud attempts.

The agency also found that one in four people reported losing money to scams, with a median loss of $500 per person. Email was the No. 1 contact method for scammers last year, especially when scammers pretended to be a business or government agency to steal money.

Other takeaways from data the FTC collected in 2023:

— Imposter scams. Imposter scams remained the top fraud category, with reported losses of $2.7 billion. These scams include people pretending to be your bank's fraud department, the government, a relative in distress, a well-known business or a technical support expert.

— Investment scams. While investment-related scams were the fourth most reported fraud category, losses in this category grew. People reported median losses of $7,700, up from $5,000 in 2022.

— Social media scams. Scams starting on social media accounted for the highest total losses at $1.4 billion — an increase of $250 million from 2022. But scams that started by a phone call caused the highest per-person loss ($1,480 average loss).

— Payment methods. How did scammers prefer that people pay? With bank transfers and payments, which accounted for the highest losses ($1.86 billion). Cryptocurrency is a close second ($1.41 billion reported in losses).

— Losses by age. Of people who reported their age, younger adults (20-29) reported losing money more often than older adults (70+). However, when older adults lost money, they lost the most.

For more information about the education event, please contact Will Hannah at BBB at will@chattanooga.bbb.org or 423-287-5540.

To learn more about National Consumer Protection Week, ways to get free consumer education materials — including advice in a dozen languages — and read the latest from consumer protection experts, visit ftc.gov/ncpw.

To read about the latest fraud being reported to BBB, please visit BBB's Scam Tracker page at bbb.org/scamtracker. You can also access BBB's tips at bbb.org/scam.

BBB scholarships

BBB is currently accepting entries for its annual Students of Integrity Scholarships, which are open to high school seniors from Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. BBB will award 10 $1,000 scholarships during the Torch Awards for Ethics Luncheon on May 1, but attendance at the luncheon is not required for eligibility.

To be considered for the Students of Integrity Scholarships, each student is asked to provide a 400-word essay on the importance of ethics in business and our community. The judges will also review each student's involvement in community service, leadership opportunities, as well as academics.

The scholarships are open to high school seniors from several counties: Bledsoe, Bradley, Grundy, Hamilton, McMinn, Marion, Meigs, Polk, Rhea, Sequatchie and Van Buren in Tennessee; and Catoosa, Chattooga, Dade, Fannin, Floyd, Gilmer, Gordon, Murray, Walker and Whitfield in Georgia

To learn more, please visit bbb.org/Chattanooga. The scholarship entry deadline is March 8, and the selected winners will be notified by mid-April.

Michele Mason is president of the Better Business Bureau in Chattanooga.

Upcoming Events