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What you need to know about a big spike in the number of government scam calls

If you ever get a phone call from someone claiming to be from a federal agency, go into alert mode. You’re most likely being targeted in a scam.

A new report from a government agency states that the number of imposter calls is on the rise. Unfortunately, many people are falling for the scams and losing thousands of dollars.

We’ll tell you how the scam works and about a new tool a federal agency has unveiled to help you learn more about what scams are most prevalent. You’ll also learn how to spot government imposter scams.

Spotting crazy government demands for money

The U.S. Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is warning consumers about callers that claim to be from the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS), Medicare or any number of government agencies. As soon as they start asking for or demanding money, hang up.

Imposters will demand that you wire money to pay off a debt or ask you to send a gift card. A well-known scam involves someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) who tells you your Social Security number has been linked to “criminal activity” and then asks you to provide some information or money. The real SSA would never do that.

But new scams are now popping up. People are telling the FTC about receiving calls from scammers pretending to be the IRS, Medicare, a government grants group, police and even the FBI.

And these scams are raking in millions. The FTC states that losses to government imposter scams add up to more than $450 million since 2014.

While only 6% of people who report government imposters say they have lost money, they have been scammed for a lot. The median individual reported loss is $960.

People ages 20 to 59 report losing money to these scams at higher rates than people 60 and over, but the median individual reported losses that increase with age. People 80 and over report a median loss of $2,700.

Gift cards, rather than money wire transfers, are the scam payment of choice. Thousands of people have filed complaints with the FTC about government imposters. Since 2014, there have been about 1.3 million complaints. So far this year, the number stands at more than 176,000.


Related: FTC warns of new robocalling scam


FTC interactive scam tool

To help consumers understand the full scope of the government imposter scams, the FTC unveiled an interactive infographic that allows you to see home many complaints have been made each year since 2014. It also shows which government agencies are the top choices for scammers.

Federal Trade Commission on IRS, SSA, HHS scams

Click on image above to view interactive version of the graphic

You can also click on the graph and see complaints the FTC received about government imposter calls each year from 2014. The FTC also offers the following tips to keep consumers safe from government imposters:

  • Be suspicious of any call from a government agency asking for money or information. Government agencies don’t call you with threats, or promises of — or demands for — money. Scammers do.
  • Don’t trust caller ID — it can be spoofed. Even if it might look like a real call, don’t trust it.
  • Never pay with a gift card or wire transfer. If someone tells you to pay this way, it’s a scam.
  • Check with the real agency. Look up their number. Call them to find out if they’re trying to reach you — and why.

Americans aren’t just being preyed upon by government imposter plans, they are also dealing with an epidemic of millions of robocall scams a month. offers this comprehensive guide on what phone scams to look out for and how you can stop them in their tracks.

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