The number of scams has risen significantly in Rio de Janeiro state. However, it was during the pandemic that this trend exploded propelled by the ascension of digital activities. The internet gives a fertile ground to swindlers, and online scams became a large portion of this type of crime. The country does not have yet adequate penalties to repress such crimes and the high profits seem to continue to attract criminals. To reduce chances of falling victim, the best option is to remain informed and updated about the scams.


Since 2020 authorities have been announcing the growth in numbers of scams. Recently disclosed data about cases that occurred this year indicate that this trend seems to be even stronger. According to information published by the Public Security Institute (ISP), Rio de Janeiro state, which is normally on the headlines for violent property crimes, had more scams than robberies in the first quarter of this year. From January to March, there were 25.191 robberies and 29.053 scams, one every four minutes. It is the first time this happens since 2003, when cases started to be recorded. The incidents in the first quarter exceeds the incidents in the same period of 2021 (13.396) and 2020 (10.583).

For the authorities, the escalation in cases is explained by a series of factors. The pandemic and the resulting social distancing intensified the digitalization of daily activities. Swindlers took advantage of the digital means, of more unexperienced people online, and of the anonymous contact through the phone or apps to create new scams and reach more victims. Besides, the traditional methods of deceiving also remained alive and growing.

The scenario described above may also explain the ascension of digital scams in Rio de Janeiro state. In 2016, this category represented only 3,8% of the 32.376 scams reported. Since then, the total of crimes rose exponentially as well as the percentage of occurrences originated in the digital environment. Not by chance, the biggest jump in digital scams came in the first year of the pandemic, when they went from 10,4%, in 2019, to 25,4% of the 44.516 scam cases in 2020. In 2021, the total of scams was 55.356, and the percentage of digital scams, 31,5%.


Some regions in Rio seem to concentrate more cases. In the capital, statistics show that in the first two months of 2022, most scams took place in the West Zone (3.968). This zone is also where the top three neighborhoods in numbers of scams are found: Campo Grande (1.021), Barra da Tijuca (746), and Taquara (722). In 2021, Barra and Campo Grande were also the top two in numbers of digital scams. The concentration of cases in this zone may not be a coincidence. The police identified there the frequent presence of so-called crime “telemarketing centers”. In apartments in Barra and Recreio, swindlers set up places from where they call the victims and pass themselves as off bank employees. They convince the victims that they had their bank cards cloned and that they must provide the password and personal data and hand over the card to fake couriers that go to their homes. Finally, with all in hands, criminals steal the victims’ money.

Another place in the state that became famous because of scams was Cabo Frio, in the northern region of the state, where approximately 20 companies accused of scamming thousands of customers all over the country with offers of fake investments, most of them in digital coins, were discovered. Most are believed to be Ponzi schemes, which promised unrealistic profits of 10% to 30% per month. One of the companies, GAS Consultoria, reportedly accumulated R$ 38 billion from its clients. The economic crisis was likely an important factor here. Under harder social conditions, people may have felt tempted by the new ways to increase income through Bitcoins and similar assets, especially after the strong appreciation they underwent in the last years.


In addition to the already mentioned Ponzi schemes and the crime telemarketing centers, many other scams have become popular among criminals. The fake invoice is one of them. The document is sent by WhatsApp, e-mail or mail, and the payment ends up in the scammers’ account. To avoid them, people must prioritize tickets issued by official channels and be suspicious if the barcode has flaws or is not read by the cell phone.

WhatsApp account cloning is another popular scam. In general, scammers gain access to a code that is sent to the victim’s cell phone and makes it possible to clone the WhatsApp or the contacts list. The next step is to contact relatives and friends to ask for money. The scam is only possible if the victim has not enabled the 2-step authentication.


To contain the advance of these scams, it would be necessary to implement harsher penalties. Today, swindlers are sentenced from one to five years in prison, and many do not go to jail. However, the best answer against scammers is prevention. It requires a minimal degree of awareness.  People must always be suspicious and seek reliable information, especially when personal data and large sums of money are involved. Be always suspicious of very advantageous offers, never provide codes received by SMS, bank, or personal data.

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