“These numbers have continued to go up in all areas, which is surprising,” says Raul Bujanda, the special agent in charge of the FBI Albuquerque field office. “Last year, when we were looking at the numbers, we saw that business email compromise was the biggest loss [category]. . . This year, we’ve kind of seen those numbers changed around, with cryptocurrency scams leading the way.”
New Mexicans alone lost more than $11.4 million to cryptocurrency scams, Bujanda says. Among the other top scams were investment fraud scams and romance or confidence scams.
Bujanda says that those scams are sometimes connected. For example, a fake lover in a romance scam might urge you to invest in a crypto scam, claiming it’s a legitimate investment.
While the total amount of cash New Mexicans are reporting as lost to scams has increased, one thing that hasn’t really changed is the fact that elderly New Mexicans tend to be victims most often – or perhaps they’re just the most honest about reporting being scammed, since the data relies on victims to come forward.
“The biggest age group that’s calling in that they’ve been scammed, or they believe they’ve been defrauded in some way, is the group that’s 60 or older,” Bujanda says. But FBI data shows that even younger New Mexicans have lost millions over the last year.
What to look out for
There are countless scams that people fall victim to. But Bujanda says there’s a common one New Mexicans should be aware of.
“What I’ve seen is kind of an uptick in what we call ‘tech support’ [scams],” Bujanda says. “These are the things that you’ll either get through text now or you’ll get in an email.”
Commonly the fake text or email appears to come from a legitimate company, such as your bank or Amazon. Then the message says that your account has been locked and that you should call a phone number. The scam might even say that, in order to prevent fraud, you need to call.
But often, if you do call, the scammer wants a small fee in order to supposedly verify the account. “It might be as small as a dollar,” Bujanda says. “But now you’ve given them information about yourself, information about your bank, information about your checking or savings account, and now they have access to be able to make those large withdrawals.”
Most banks and companies will not ask you to verify your account by sending money. And for other types of scams, like romance scams, if something sounds too good to be true, it often is.
If you do end up being part of a scam, or suspect an ongoing scam, the FBI says you should report the incident as soon as possible. In some cases, law enforcement can prevent money from being stolen.
“The sooner we can have that information, the sooner that we can act and hopefully try to stop anything from happening,” Bujanda says. “We have great connections within the private industry, to include the banking system.”
Most of the money stolen from Americans goes through U.S. companies, even when the scammer lives abroad, Bujanda says. “The sooner we have that [reported] information, we might be able to stop those transactions from continuing and hopefully recoup those funds,” he adds.
“When we’re talking about someone’s life savings, whether it’s a hundred thousand dollars or seventy thousand dollars, to that person that’s impacted, to that New Mexican that’s impacted, that’s a big deal,” Bujanda says. “And if we can do something about it to try to recoup some of those funds or at least make those perpetrators pay that caused that scam, we’re going to do it.”
To report a scam, you can file a complaint on the FBI’s website at this link. You can also call the Albuquerque FBI office at (505) 889-1300.