If you pick up your phone and hear the FBI on the other end, it’s understandable if you feel your stomach drop. Feds rarely call people — and when they do, it’s usually because you’re part of an investigation.
Unfortunately, most of the time a caller claims to be with the FBI, they’re not telling the truth. As it turns out, it’s a popular scam technique designed to trick people into sharing personal data or sending money. Tap or click here to see how a scam like this is targeting seniors right now.
Scammers impersonating government officials are nothing new. But when these kinds of scams happen, results can be disastrous. Just ask one resident of St. Louis County who lost $100,000 of savings thanks to a scammer claiming to be with the FBI. If you get one of these dangerous calls, here’s why you need to hang up the phone right away.
These scammers are not the Feds. Don’t talk to them or give them your money!
Government impersonation scams are becoming more common in recent months — and the FBI is aware of how big the issue is. Back in January, it issued a warning about callers impersonating the Bureau and spoofing its number, along with advice on what victims can do if they make the mistake of chatting.
But scammers never stay still, and FBI impersonators have switched up tactics to trap even more people. A brand new spin on the classic FBI scam now involves tricking victims into sending money — money they have next to no chance of recovering.
Here’s how the scam works: A victim will get a call from someone claiming to be from the FBI — and to make things seem real, crooks spoof the FBI’s actual phone number. They then tell the victim that their Social Security number was stolen and used to purchase property or open bank accounts.
That’s when the thieves try to reel in their victims. To protect the victim’s life savings, the scammer asks them to wire it over for safekeeping. They provide full instructions on the process and walk victims through each step. But once the money is sent, the criminal vanishes and is never heard from again.
We already know that at least one person lost their entire life’s savings to one of these schemes. And now, it’s likely they’ll strike again while the iron is still hot.
How can I tell an FBI imposter from the real deal?
The FBI doesn’t usually make house calls like these crooks are doing. And even when it does, it never asks for money, gift cards or any sort of financial transaction.
If you want to avoid getting hit by this scam, here are the top things to remember when you pick up the phone:
- If you get a call from 202-324-3000, this is the real FBI’s phone number. But keep in mind that scammers are able to spoof it, so tread cautiously. You’re probably better off letting the call go to voicemail and checking any messages left behind for red flags.
- If the person on the other line appears to have a poor grasp on English, that’s a big red flag for a scam.
- The FBI will never ask for money or payments of any kind.
- The FBI will never attempt to scare you into sending money or data. If their words seem too urgent, it’s probably a scam.
- Never share any personal data like Social Security numbers, bank account details, credit card numbers or addresses over the phone. If a real FBI agent actually needs to get info from you, they can set up an in-person interview.
- Never send gift cards or provide data from gift cards to anyone over the phone. The mention of gift cards is an instant red flag, and one of the most common ways scammers ask for payment from victims.
If you did happen to fall for one of these phone scams, that doesn’t mean you’re totally out of options. Here are a few steps you can take to protect yourself:
- Contact the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center and report the fraud.
- Call your bank or financial institution and let them know you may be at risk for fraud. If you already sent money, let the bank know you were scammed and ask them what your options are (if any).
- Consider putting a freeze on your credit score to prevent any unauthorized activity. Tap or click here to see how to do it.
- Change any passwords associated with your financial accounts and activate two-factor authentication to prevent any fraudulent login attempts. Tap or click here to see how to set it up for your bank.
It’s a shame that scammers are getting so skilled at tricking people. But as long as we know what to watch out for, we can protect ourselves. These scams are only as dangerous as we are gullible.