Scammers use a wide range of tactics to convince victims into handing over personal details or money. While these can range from helping with student loan repayments or vaccine cards, the most troubling of them all is the government impersonator.
These scams have grown over the last few years, and it points towards the brazen nature of scammers. It has become such a problem that the FBI has stepped in to make more people aware of the fraudulent activity.
Read on to see how these government impersonator scams work and what you need to look out for.
Here’s the backstory
If you conjure up thoughts of a dodgy clipboard-carrying man knocking on doors to “check your water,” you aren’t far off. Except, these government officials are online, completely fake, and want to steal your money.
Pretending to be law enforcement or working for some government department, they often use strong language, aggressive tones or threats to rattle you. The criminals hope that by strong-arming you, they can get you to panic and comply with their demands.
One of the most common methods to catch victims is to claim that they failed to report for jury duty and need to pay a fine. Another trick is to allege that the victim’s identity is implicated in a serious crime and the law enforcement officials want to verify your details.
According to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaints Center (IC3), the motivation has remained the same, but scammers are now employing new tactics to turn up the heat. Some of these include:
- Refusing to speak to anyone but the potential victim.
- They won’t leave any voice messages.
- Urging victims not to tell anyone about their call, including family and friends.
In almost all cases, the impersonators demand payment through sketchy systems like prepaid cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrencies. And scammers will often spoof authentic phone numbers and names and use fake credentials of well-known government and law enforcement agencies.
How to avoid impersonation scams
The FBI warns of the following signs to watch for: Payment is demanded in various forms, with the most prevalent being prepaid cards, wire transfers, and cash, sent by mail or inserted into cryptocurrency ATMs.
Victims are asked to read prepaid card numbers over the phone or text a picture of the card. Mailed cash will be hidden or packaged to avoid detection by standard mail scanning devices. Wire transfers are often sent overseas, so funds almost immediately vanish.
Here are some other ways in which you can stay safe and spot a scam:
- Legitimate law enforcement will never phone anyone to demand payment. Personal information will also never be collected over the phone. So if someone asks for details like your Social Security number or date of birth, refuse to give it.
- Any official communication from a government department will be sent to you through a mailed letter or in person. If someone shows up in person, insist on verifying their credentials.
- If you suspect that you might be a target for a scammer, stop corresponding immediately. Contact your local law enforcement and supply them with the details of the scam.
You should also file a complaint with the FBI IC3 at www.ic3.gov. Be sure to keep any financial transaction information, including prepaid cards and banking records and all telephone, text, or email communications.