Scams and fraud revving up in Alaska

Scams and frauds are on the rise, taking $5.8 million from Alaskans in 2020 through mail, phone, and internet. (Berett Wilber/Alaska Public Media)

There has been a huge uptick in scams and frauds in Alaska over the past two years — and across the entire country.

State Attorney General Treg Taylor said around 4,000 Alaskans reported losing money to fraud last year. And many people don’t file reports, so he expects the total is much higher.

“Basically, that amounts to $5.8 million in the state of Alaska,” Taylor said.

There’s already an even greater uptick this year.

“Just in the first three months of 2021 we’ve seen 1,360 Alaskans and a loss of $2.8 million,” said Taylor.

At this rate, Alaskans will lose about twice as much money to scams and fraud in 2021 as they did last year. Many of the schemes are coming from organizations outside the country, Taylor said.

“And since most of the scammers, the bad actors, reside outside of the state and most even reside outside of the country, it has to be addressed at a federal level,” Taylor said.

Alaska’s attorney general has joined with most of the other attorneys general in the country to support beefing up the ability to fight fraud by urging Congress to pass the Fraud and Scam Reduction Act.

The act would give more tools to the Federal Trade Commission by centralizing all the different organizations involved in monitoring and responding to fraud within one committee at the Bureau of Consumer Protection. The committee would assist in monitoring scams targeting older adults, and in educating consumers and receiving complaints. The bill would also create more robust education efforts to help seniors who are targeted by most of the scamming operations.

Taylor said that lot of the illegal activity is occurring by phone, internet and even by mail. It often involves someone pretending to be from the government, a family member, or even the Alaska unemployment office claiming they sent out too big a check and want you to pay money back to them.

“The scam is to get that overpayment back or suffer some harsh penalty — losing your benefits, for example, or being sent to jail,” Taylor said.

Taylor pointed to three ways to spot a scam.

One, if it requires immediate action, don’t believe it, he said.

If it is too good to be true, or too bad to be true, it is a fraud.

And third: If you’re being told to transfer funds quickly or through unusual methods, it is a scam. Hang up the phone and report it to the authorities, he said.

The Fraud and Scam Reduction Act made it through the U.S. House of Representatives in about two months and is in the U.S. Senate, where it’s expected to pass quickly.