Have you or a loved one ever been contacted by phone, email or text from someone pretending to be a person you know? Or, someone pretending to be an official from a well-known business, your favorite charity, a lawyer, a celebrity, a romantic interest or a family member with an emergency? Or, maybe someone has called claiming to be from Social Security, the IRS or another government agency, to create a sense of urgency and then has asked you for money to avoid arrest. These are called “Imposter Scams,” and they happen all of the time.
The only thing fake about imposter scams are the crooks trying to catch you in a weak moment and rip you off. These scams usually start out with an unsolicited phone call, email, text or social media message. Con artists will impersonate people and organizations you would usually trust and eventually ask you to send them money after establishing a relationship with you.
These scams can be extremely lucrative. Reported losses to imposter scams add up to more than $667 million. Fortunately, only 6% of people who report imposters say they lost money. But when they do, it’s a lot: the median individual reported loss is $960. Keeping in mind that this number is a median; many losses have actually been in the thousands for others.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, some of the most common government schemes include:
- Phony Social Security Administration call: “Your Social Security Number has been frozen, but we’ll help you keep your money safe!” (This is the most common government imposter scam.)
- Health & Human Services/Medicare Scam: “Call now for your free back brace.”
- IRS Imposter: “There’s a lawsuit against you for unpaid taxes.”
- Fake government grant offer: “You’re eligible for a free government grant.”
- Bogus police, sheriff or FBI call: “There is a warrant for your arrest for failing to appear in court.”
Most imposter scams are quick hits, with the goal being to frighten you into making a rash decision, then disappear.
Warning signs of an Imposter Scam
- A phone call or email claiming you owe money to a business, utility or the government, and risk dire consequences if you don’t pay immediately.
- An imposter calls saying you’ve won a prize or qualify for a grant, but you must pay a fee to collect it.
- A caller claims to be from a tech company or internet service provider that has detected a virus on your computer. They will ask you to look for an email in your computer, and click on a link, which then unfortunately activates malware that shuts your system down. Then, they will offer you a “deal of $300” or more to fix the problem.
- Someone calls or texts claiming to be a grandchild or other relative to request money for an emergency. It’s an emotional plea, but please check it out before you act. Contact others in your family. There’s always someone to help you decide if it’s legit.
What do you do to protect yourself?
- Hang up on unsolicited callers.
- Confirm for yourself whether the caller is legitimate by verifying customer service numbers, email addresses and websites.
- Report imposter scams to the company being impersonated.
- Cut off contact if you suspect someone you’ve met online is an imposter.
- Don’t give out sensitive information—like credit card numbers or your SSN—over the phone unless you are sure of whom you are dealing with. This is especially true if you didn’t initiate the phone call.
- Don’t allow remote access to your computer or make payment to parties who claim to be tech support.
- Be skeptical about caller ID—scammers can use spooling tools to make it appear like they are calling from a genuine business or government number.
Fighting fraud is a team effort. Tower provides the most up-to-date information available to protect our members and their accounts. For other fraud topics, be sure to check out Financial Know How.
Sources: AARP, FTC.gov, Money.com