Impostor Scams [Video]
Government Imposter Scams
Don’t do it. Federal government agencies and federal employees don’t ask people to send money for prizes or unpaid loans. Nor are they permitted to ask you to wire money or add money to a prepaid debit card to pay for anything.
How to Recognize a Government Imposter
It could be hard to recognize an imposter through the lies they tell. They use a variety of tricks to get your attention, whether it’s distracting you with a story about money you won or creating a fear that you’ll be sued or arrested.
Here are two deceptions that they have used successfully to steal money from people:
You’ve “Won” a Lottery or Sweepstakes
Someone claiming to be a government official calls, telling you that you’ve won a federally supervised lottery or sweepstakes. They may say they’re from “the national consumer protection agency,” the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, or even the very real Federal Trade Commission — and it looks like they’re calling from a legitimate number. They also might send e-mails, text messages or letters.
- tell you you’ll have to pay taxes or service charges before you can collect your winnings
- ask you to send money to an agent of “Lloyd’s of London” or some other well-known insurance company to “insure” delivery of your prize
- ask you to wire money right away, often to a foreign country
The truth is that no government agency or insurance company is involved, and there are no winnings. There never were. Scammers take the money you paid them and disappear.
You Owe a Fake Debt
You might get a call or an official-looking letter that has your correct name, address and Social Security number. Often, fake debt collectors say they’re with a law firm or a government agency — for example, the FTC, the IRS or a sheriff’s office. Then, they threaten to arrest you or take you to court if you don’t pay on a debt you supposedly owe.
The truth: there’s no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay back a debt. If you’re unsure whether the threat is legitimate, look up the official number for the government agency, office or employee (yes, even judges) and call to get the real story. Even if it is a real debt, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Variations on these scams include people claiming to be with the IRS collecting back taxes, or scammers posing as representatives of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) who target immigration applicants and petitioners.
Five Ways to Beat a Government Imposter Scam
Don’t wire money
Scammers often pressure people into wiring money, or strongly suggest that people put money on a prepaid debit card and send it to them. Why? It’s like sending cash: once it’s gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Never deposit a “winnings” check and wire money back, either. The check is a fake, no matter how good it looks, and you will owe the bank any money you withdraw. And don’t share your account information, or send a check or money order using an overnight delivery or courier service. Con artists recommend these services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been cheated.
Don’t pay for a prize
If you enter and win a legitimate sweepstakes, you don’t have to pay insurance, taxes, or shipping charges to collect your prize. If you have to pay, it’s not a prize. And companies, including Lloyd’s of London, don’t insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings.
If you didn’t enter a sweepstakes or lottery, then you can’t have won. Remember that it’s illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone.
Don’t give the caller your financial or other personal information
Never give out or confirm financial or other sensitive information, including your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know who you’re dealing with. Scam artists, like fake debt collectors, can use your information to commit identity theft — charging your existing credit cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name. If you get a call about a debt that may be legitimate — but you think the collector may not be — contact the company you owe money to about the calls.
Don’t trust a name or number
Con artists use official-sounding names to make you trust them. It’s illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with — or an endorsement by — a government agency or any other well-known organization. No matter how convincing their story — or their stationery — they’re lying. No legitimate government official will ask you to send money to collect a prize, and they won’t call to collect your debt.
To make their call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code. So even though it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry
Ok, so this won’t stop scammers from calling. But it should make you skeptical of calls you get from out of the blue. Most legitimate sales people generally honor the Do Not Call list. Scammers ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and reduce the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you get. Register your phone number at donotcall.gov.
Source: Consumer FTC
Impostor – The Grate Pretenders
- A taxing situation. Internal Revenue Service imposters are the #1 imposter scam in Consumer Sentinel and they’re on the rise. Fake IRS agents may try to scare you into thinking that you owe back taxes or there’s a problem with your return. The real IRS won’t initiate contact by phone or email – instead they’ll start with a postal letter.
- Sur-prized? Did the Prize Patrol ring you up to say the only thing between you and a pile of winnings is a little processing fee? Before you call in the cameras, balloons and poster-sized check, hold the phone! If you need to send money to collect your prize, hang up. They’re just pretending to be from Publishers Clearinghouse.
- You need professional help. Maybe the con artist tries to persuade you that your computer is on the fritz. In this twist, scammers try to convince you that your computer has a serious and urgent technical problem and that you desperately need their help. Oh, puh-leeze.
- Mal-where? Another version goes like this: “I’m calling from Microsoft Technical Support. I’m looking at your computer and there’s dangerous software popping up.” In reality – and you have my “Word” on this – it’s a scam. Put down the phone or refuse to click the pop-up. The fee they demand is usually very low to avoid raising your suspicions. Sometimes they say they’re from billing and you owe money or they need your account information.
- Fake FBI. In an old twist on the Nigerian email scam, a phony G-man contacts you with supposed “certification” of the legitimacy of Prince So-and-So from the United Kingdom of Scamnation or some other official-sounding offer. The Prince supposedly wants you to help him move a, well, princely, sum of money out of his troubled country. Nope, not a chance.
- Kidnapped computers. You click on a link in an email that seems like it’s from a legitimate company. The window that pops up says a destructive program has locked you out of your files. The pop-up might tell you to click a link so an “FBI agent” can help you. Or they tell you to get a prepaid card and pay for a password that will unlock your files. More often than not, even if you pay the ransom, they don’t release your files. Regularly back up your files to minimize any damage these thieves could cause.
- I’ll grant you that… Imagine the caller posing as a government official – could be from the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security or a made-up agency name with the word “federal” in it – with the surprising news that you’ve won a government grant for thousands of dollars. They encourage you to seal the deal by forking over hundreds of dollars in “taxes” or “fees.”
- Medicare masquerade. The sham government representative claims to work for Medicare or in connection with the Affordable Health Care Act or even a made-up agency that sounds a lot like Health and Human Services. They threaten your medical benefits to get your personal information or fees from you.
- Fueling fears. Another variation involves a phony Homeland Security caller who threatens immigrants with deportation notices. They offer, for a charge, to help you certify your immigration status. They hope scare tactics will get you off guard long enough to part with valuable information or money.
- Caller ID Don’t. An emerging imposter scam involves misusing caller ID. Sometimes they make it seem that the Caller ID number is your telephone number. Others spoof the caller ID with “Mom” to get you to pick up the call.
Impostor Scams Surpassed Identity Theft for the First Time Ever Last Year
More U.S. consumers complained about imposter scams than identity theft for the first time in 2016, as fraudsters relied more on the phone and less on email to find victims, the Federal Trade Commission said on Friday.
- Impostor scams accounted for 406,578 of the 3,050,374 consumer complaints received in 2016 by the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network, just above the 399,225 received for identity theft, the agency said.
- Debt collection generated 859,090, or 28%, of all complaints, more than any other category. Complaints overall fell 3% from the record 3,140,803 set a year earlier.
- The FTC attributed the rise in impostor scam complaints to more fraudsters pretending to be trustworthy government officials, like from the Internal Revenue Service demanding payment of taxes.
- Impostor scams topped the list of complaints from military personnel, accounting for 32% of the 115,984 received.
The 19% drop in identity theft complaints, meanwhile, came as authorities try to educate consumers about protecting personal data and reporting suspicious activity quickly.
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- Of the consumers reporting fraud, 77% said scammers contacted them first by phone, up from 54% just two years earlier.
- Only 8% reported being first contacted by email, and just 6% through the Internet.
- A total of 662,209 consumers reported losing $744.5 million through fraud in 2016, for an average $1,124 each, the FTC said.
- Fifty-eight percent of reported fraudulent payments were made by wire transfers, and most of the rest by credit cards, debits from bank accounts, or prepaid cards, the FTC said.
The database includes complaints made directly to the FTC, various state and federal law enforcement agencies, and other groups including the Council of Better Business Bureaus.
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