Government imposter scams are very effective for con artists. A recent AARP survey found 44% of Americans over the age of 18 have been exposed to these types of scams and BBB estimates victims have collectively lost hundreds of millions of dollars. So, you don’t fall for these schemes, be aware of how you can recognize them. Here are a few of the most common ones and the warning signs that give them away.
• As we discussed in our last column, sweepstakes scams are very efficient at bilking people out of their money. In one that is especially effective, a so-called government official contacts you, saying you’ve won a major prize in the national lottery run by the United States government. Unfortunately, there’s no such lottery run by the United States government. Scammers often use phone numbers appearing to be from a government agency or an email from the ”National Sweepstakes Department,” claiming you must pay some money upfront and instructs you to wire money to a location not associated with a real government agency.
• A call from the IRS stating you owe taxes is especially dreadful. Scammers often claim to be from the IRS and demand you pay “back taxes and penalties” immediately, usually with a credit card, prepaid debit card or wire transfer. If you fail to respond, you could get another phone call, supposedly from the sheriff’s department, saying you will be arrested if you don’t pay immediately.
• Many citizens on Social Security rely on their checks to make ends meet. Scammers know someone receiving a phone call from the Social Security Administration is likely to be very cooperative. In one such scam recently making the rounds, a caller claims your SSN has been “blocked” because it has been linked to a crime or has been used to unlawfully apply for credit cards and that you could lose your benefits. In this one the con artists are often not after your money, but your Social Security number so they can steal your identity. They ask you to state your Social Security number to “confirm” what they have on file so they can “reactivate” your account. Just remember, Social Security Administration will never call you like this.
• American citizens on Medicare have been targeted by scams since the government announced they were sending out Medicare cards that did not have the users’ Society Security number printed on it. Scammers, claiming to be Medicare representatives, told victims they were required to either pay a fee for the new cards or “confirm” personal information like their SSN or bank account details.
The BBB and FTC offers tips to make sure you don’t fall for these government imposter scams.
• Assume callers are not who they say they are. Even though they may give official sounding titles and phone numbers, remember they have the technological ability to “spoof” those details.
• Be sure to call the real number if you’re not sure the person you are calling is really from a government agency. Look up the actual number on the Internet and ask their representative if the call was real.
• Never, ever send money using transfer services or prepaid debit or gift cards. This goes for any form of payment to anyone you do not know. If you pay this way there is little to no chance of recovering your money.
• Do not pay to win a lottery. Legitimate lotteries or sweepstakes never require any type of pre-payment. And the government has no national lottery.
• Never ever give out personal information to any unsolicited call or contact, including your bank account, credit card numbers or your Social Security number.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.