BILLINGS - Across Montana and the mountain west, scams have increased during the pandemic affecting many struggling families.

Wednesday, a virtual meeting was held with the Federal Trade Commission, the Montana Department of Justice, AARP, local law enforcement and other organizations to raise awareness of the different types of scams and how to stop them from happening to you.

The FTC says the most commonly used method by scammers is text messages and robocalls.

As of Tuesday, the FTC says they’ve logged more than 400-thousand consumer complaints related to COVID-19 and stimulus payments. According to Andrew Johnson, a Chief of Staff with the FTC, the main way scammers operate is by pretending to be someone else.

 “Last year in Montana, by far, imposter scams were the number one scams reported to the FTC," Johnson said.

Johnson says the one constant from scammers over the years is how they ask you to pay. They’ll typically request you to wire money, send gift cards or even pay them in cryptocurrency.

Chuck Munson with the Montana Department of Justice says in 2020 they saw an increase in scams and identity theft.

“Scammers aren’t always just stealing money, though they do. Sometimes they’re getting folks’ personal information to steal their identity," Munson said.

Munson says a common scheme he sees is lottery winnings. During the meeting he gave an example of a Montanan veteran who received a phone call claiming that he’d won the lottery and needed to pay taxes and fees upfront. After the first payment, the scammer continued to request money from the veteran. Munson says over several weeks the man had sent over 1.5 million dollars to South East Asia.

“This scam wasn't reported until the funds were gone. Ironically, he learned it was a scam by reading an AARP magazine that detailed the very scam that he’d fallen victim to," Munson said.

His money was never recovered.

According to Munson, you can identify a scam if they have one of these four traits:

  1. playing off your emotion
  2. falsifying their title
  3. creating a time sensitive situation
  4. requesting money or personal information from you

Munson warns people to be cautious on the phone or online when talking to strangers.

“I think if people got those habits ingrained in them a lot of these would be avoided,” he said.

Munson says reporting scams is important, but knowing how to prevent them is key. To learn more about scams, you can click here.

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