As fraudsters have become increasingly tech savvy, we as a general public are being bombarded with more sophisticated scams. Particularly insidious are scams in the form of phone calls or messages that appear to be from particular parties — in other words, “imposter scams.”
Government Imposter Scams
These are quite common because they play on your fears of what can happen if you don’t listen to authorities. Someone calls you and claims to be part of a government agency or connected to one and essentially claims that you owe some sort of serious debt that needs to be paid right away, or they need to confirm some of your personal information, like your Social Security Number or banking information. Cover stories may include:
- Internal Revenue Service: contacting you because you have a tax debt that you have to pay immediately, usually through wire transfer or prepaid card.
- Citizenship and Immigration Services: contacting you because there is a problem with a visa or visa application (yours or a loved ones), claiming that you or a loved one has benefited from a “government-funded scholarship” you now need to pay back, or saying that you owe them any sort of money, which they usually want you to pay through wire transfer or prepaid card.
- Social Security Administration: contacting you because your SSN has been used in some sort of crime (like drugs or money being moved illegally out of the country – Texas is a popular detail sometimes thrown in) or that someone has used your SSN to apply for credit cards, etc. They will ask you to tell them your SSN so they can “confirm” it’s you. They may claim that if you don’t provide this information, you’ll lose your SSN benefits or they will have to “cancel” it.
- Medicare/Medicaid: contacting you to confirm SSN or banking information to renew or keep coverage, to receive new Medicare/Medicaid cards, to sign up for a “Part D Prescription Plan” or other plan, or to transfer money into a new account because the other Medicare account has been compromised. They may claim that if you don’t provide what they ask, you will lose all your medical benefits.
How Do You Know It’s a Scam?
Real government entities do not randomly call people up, and they definitely do not demand money upon threat of arrest, deportation or refusal of benefits. If you owe money or there is a problem with your account with a program, you will most likely receive a formal written notice. This letter will outline your next steps, any deadlines you need to know, and who you can contact for more information.
You will also never be asked to send money via wire transfer, prepaid cards, or other untraceable funds — nor will a government agency ever ask for your personal information like a SSN if they initiated the call to you. If you call their offices, you may be asked for information so they can confirm it’s really you and so they can look up your account — never the other way around.
Many of these scam calls are robocalls. If you hear an automated voice claiming to be part of a government agency, it’s a big, red flag.
Other Common Types of Imposter Scams
Whether it’s your love of family members, loneliness, or lack of tech savvy, scammers will try to play on your “weaknesses” to extort money or important information from you.
- Tech Support Scams: Someone claiming to be from Apple, Microsoft, or another computer brand or company, will call and say that your computer has been infected, and ask you to go to your computer and follow their instructions to grant them remote access to fix the problem. Once you give them remote access, they can mine the contents of your computer for financial and personal information and end up stealing money or your identity. These scams are banking on you not knowing much about computers and current technology.
- Grandchild (or other Extended Family Member) Scams: Someone calls, claiming to be your grandchild or perhaps another family member you don’t see often enough to immediately recognize them – asking for money for some urgent reason. They are tugging on your heartstrings, and may even mention things that make you think they are who they say they are (such as things you have posted on social media).
- Online Dating and Similar Love/Friendship Scams: Requests for money or information may come from people you have “met” on online dating scams, or people you have “friended” on social media. After you have become close, they will have some emergency – like a medical emergency in their family – and ask you for help, leaning on the idea that you are friends or in love.
How You Know They Are Scams
There is usually a sense of urgency that these scammers create and piggyback off your feelings, such as love or your fears that your lack of computer savvy can’t protect you. They will not be forthcoming with supporting information or let you take the time to check things out. They may go from begging to guilt tripping to downright hostility.
How to Protect Yourself From Imposter Scams
Protecting yourself is not just a matter of “using common sense” because these scammers can be really sophisticated:
- They may be calling from numbers that look like authentic government numbers on your Caller ID and may refer to passages in legislation or seem to otherwise know a lot about the subject matter
- They may seem to know certain details you think are hard to find, such as family members in the immigration system or enrolled in colleges – or that you have mentioned on Facebook or other social media accounts.
If you get a call that sounds anything like any of the scams we’ve talked about, consider the following:
- Never, ever, ever give out personal or financial information unless you are calling one of their official numbers.
- If someone is pushing you hard for money or information, make sure you do some of your own research before giving anything up.
- Find out from trusted family members whether or not your grandkid or cousin or other family member is actually in the situation the caller has claimed.
- If there is a contact number in the message or in the call, do not call it. Look up the contact information on the agency’s official website or in the phone book, or attend at your local branch. Confirm with an official whether they have sent you anything or had someone call.
- Look up the details of the call you got on the Internet. There are sites like www.snopes.com that debunk common myths and scams. You’ll be surprised how many other people have been targeted by the same scams.
Trust your gut.
If you sense anything fishy about the phone call or caller, hang up.
The less you talk to the caller, the better.
Just as we want to protect you against scams, Asurea is dedicated to protecting you, and your loved ones with insurance. Asurea offers Life Insurance, Mortgage Protection Life Insurance, Medicare Supplement Insurance, Final Expense Insurance, Disability Insurance, Retirement Planning products and more. For additional information, click on the ‘Learn More’ button below. Want to have articles just like this delivered to your inbox? Just enter your email address in the box below and click ‘Subscribe.’
All content provided in this article is for general, informational purposes only.