Whether you’re talking to someone on the phone, via email or on social media, it’s getting harder and harder to tell for sure who’s on the other end — and scammers are taking full advantage.
Imposter scams have become the #1 reported complaint to the Federal Trade Commission, according to the FTC’s nationwide Consumer Sentinel database.
Consumers in 2018 lost close to $488 million to imposter scams, the FTC says. And the agency note that both younger people and older adults are being defrauded.
Imposter scams: Here’s how to protect yourself
Fraudsters pretending to be government agency representatives are far and away the leading culprits of imposter scams. Here are some of the more prominent scams entrapping people — and how you can protect yourself:
Social Security Administration scam
How the scam works: This phone scam is successful because the call seems to come from the Social Security Administration. Using a method called “spoofing,” crooks can make it so the SSA’s legitimate customer service number — 1-800-772-1213 — shows up on caller ID.
Once you answer, the “employee” tells you something like they want to increase your benefit payments — but they need to confirm your personal information.
How to protect yourself: Don’t give it to them. The SSA rarely calls people regarding their accounts. If you have any doubts, call the number above yourself and confirm that the SSA really does need information from you.
How the scam works: Criminals, in many cases, are using robocalls to impersonate the Internal Revenue Service. You pick up the phone and an automated voice says something like this:
“This is the Internal Revenue Service office of legal action. We are filing suit against you for unpaid income taxes. Please call our office at [California phone number].”
How to protect yourself: Don’t call the number back. You will just be ringing up scammer. If you think you might legitimately owe taxes, call the IRS directly at 800-829-1040.
CEO/Employer email scam
Here’s how it works: Some working folks have reported that crooks are now sending emails pretending to be CEOs and executives in their companies. The emails usually ask for sensitive personal information such your W-2 details.
In some cases, these “bosses” even ask their workers to wire money to an overseas bank account or purchase a large number of gift cards.
How to protect yourself: Do nothing and report the email to your manager. If there is a legitimate request from a company higher-up, your manager should know about it anyway.
The 2 most important safety tips when dealing with imposter scams
Don’t trust it when a government agency calls you
“If you get a call out of the blue from someone claiming to be from a government agency like the Social Security Administration or IRS asking you for personal information or money, it’s a scam,” said Andrew Smith, Director of the FTC’s Bureau of Consumer Protection. “You should hang up immediately and report it to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.”
Never click on a link in a suspicious email
If you weren’t expecting the email, don’t make the mistake of clicking on any attachment inside of it. Instead, go directly to a particular government agency’s website and do whatever business you need to from there.
The internet is fraught with fraudsters looking to get you to part with your money and imposter scams are just one way they do that. Here are some more of the most common online scams and how to avoid them.