Consumer Scams: 1971 & 2011 Comparison

Consumer fraud has come a long way in the last 40 years. Although scams thrived in the 1970s, the Internet brought the scamming trade to new heights in the 21st century. Let’s take a look at what the scam scene looked like in 1971 and what it looks like today – and how you can protect yourself.

  • 1971: Spam was canned meat that looked (and some say, tasted) like cat food, phishing was something you did with your grandfather, a virus was something to be celebrated because it meant you got to stay home from school, and cramming was what you did before a test.
  • 2011: Savvy consumers must be on the lookout for Internet spam, phishing (when fraudsters try to obtain sensitive information via email by posing as a legitimate company), computer viruses, and phone cramming (when a company bills you for a service you didn’t agree to, order, or use).
  • 1971: The average consumer scam involved a relatively small number of victims and most fraud victims had personal, face-to-face contact with the scammer. Think used car sales, door-to-door sales, and small-time investor schemes.
  • 2011: The Internet enables scammers to perpetrate fraud quickly and easily on a very large scale and allows the scammer to remain faceless and nameless. This makes getting your money back difficult, and poses challenges for government prosecutors.
  • 1971: Because scammers in the 1970s knew that many Americans were sitting on a treasure trove in the form of their house, fraudsters came up with all sorts of home improvement and contractor scams to suck money out of homeowners.
  • 2011: While home improvement and contractor fraud are still biggies, today resourceful scammers have invented thousands of new home scams in every variety and flavor. Tricking elderly homeowners into signing their home away, stealing equity from homeowners through elaborate refinancing schemes, and taking money from folks to buy land that does not exist are just a few.
  • 1971: If you were the victim of a Nigerian scam, it meant you had traveled to Nigeria and got pick-pocketed in an open-air market.
  • 2011: Today, the Nigerian scam is just one of many “advance fee” scams that rip off businesses and individuals alike – causing folks to lose cash and risk identity theft to impersonators over the Internet. (You can learn about the Nigerian scam and other advance fee scams from the FBI.)
  • 1971: Although the term “identity theft” was first coined in 1964, the vast majority of Americans in 1971 remained untouched by (and often unaware of) this crime.
  • 2011: Identity theft is the most common consumer fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission, with 1.3 million reported cases in 2010. Some estimate the number of actual victims per year to be 10 million.
  • 1971: Smart consumers could reduce the chance of being scammed by arming themselves with information. Luckily Nolo entered the scene in 1971, providing plain English legal information to everyday folks.
  • 2011: The advice on how to reduce your chance of becoming a scam victim hasn’t changed much over the years — know what scams are lurking about and learn how to protect yourself. Fortunately, Nolo can help you do just that. Today, Nolo’s Solve Your Money Troubles, Credit Repair, and Stopping Identity Theft provide consumers with sound advice on how to avoid scams, protect your money, and protect your good credit. Or, with the click of a mouse (not the 1971 kind that eats cheese), you can download and fill out one of Nolo’s many eForms (drafted by our top-notch in-house lawyer-editors) in the consumer protection and money management area. And thanks to the Internet, Nolo now has hundreds of free articles and FAQs on consumer protection – so you can learn about lemon laws, avoid eBay fraud, spot the most common travel scams, protect your good credit from identity thieves, check out the newest home equity scams, and more.