July is National Military Consumer Month. It’s a month where the Federal Trade Commission focuses on helping military Service Members, Veterans and their families learn about key consumer protections they need to be successful. For the second year, the FTC is focusing Military Consumer Month on imposter scams. The goal is to help military personnel understand imposter scams and the steps they can take to avoid them. But in reality, everyone can use this advice to avoid getting scammed.
What are imposter scams?
Imposter scams include any scam where the perpetrator attempts to impersonate a government agent, authority or professional. This can come in any number of forms, according to the FTC website. They fall into four basic groups:
Scammer impersonates a government.In this imposter scam, the scammer acts like a government official. The most common version of this scam is impersonating an IRS agent or auditor. Most people respond promptly to the IRS and give them whatever they ask for in order to avoid audits, liens and garnishments. Scammers capitalize on this sense of urgency to steal your information.
Be aware that the IRS isn’t the only agency scammers try to impersonate. You may also receive calls about bogus lottery winnings or other lures.
The FTC reports that since 2014 military and civilian consumers have collectively filed 1.3 million complaints about government imposter scams. In 2019 alone, there have been 176,259 reports of government imposter scams to date this year.
The top agencies used in imposter scams are:
- Social Security Administration
- Health & Human Services / Medicare
- Internal Revenue Service (IRS)
- Government Grants
- Police, Sheriff or FBI
The median loss this year is $1,000, for total losses of $55,87 million
Scammer impersonates someone you know .In this imposter scam, the scammer impersonates someone you know. They call you desperate in some emergency and ask you to send money. This scam is most commonly seen targeting the elderly. However, it can also be used against other people. Military Service Members can also be at risk, particularly during deployment.
Scammer impersonates a customer service or tech supportThis imposter scam relies on your desire to keep your services and gadgets running without delay. The scammer impersonates a tech support agent or customer service representative for a device you own or service your use. Since it seems to come from a company you work with already, you’re more likely to trust the person that calls you and give them sensitive information.
Scammer sets up a fake website where you enter private informationFor this final type of imposter scam, the scammer sets up a fake website. You enter your information to set up an account, just like you would with a legitimate service. But the site is fake and it only exists to get the information that you enter. The most common versions of this are dating websites and job hunting websites.
How to Avoid Imposter Scams
“The best way to avoid imposter scams is to verify the identity of the person that contacts you,” says April Lewis-Parks, Financial Education Director for Consolidated Credit.
“You also need to be aware of what officials will and won’t ask you for since this can often serve as the first warning sign that you’re talking to an imposter.”
If an imposter pretends to be a family member or friend of the family:
- Ask them questions only close family would know.
- Ask them to contact you in a different way – for example, if they email you, ask them to call you.
- Contact another relative to confirm that the person is having trouble.
To avoid government imposter scams:
- First, recognize that agencies like the IRS will never contact you via email or phone! They always send official letters in the mail.
- Only provide sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, through the agency’s official, secure website.
To avoid customer service and tech support imposter scams:
- Be cautious of any contact that you did not initiate; most representatives will only contact you when you submit a complaint or issue.
- Ask them to verify your account number and make sure they have all the relevant information about your account.
- Never reply to unsolicited emails with sensitive information.
If you find a website you don’t recognize that asks you to create an account:
- Check the Better Business Bureau to make sure it’s a legitimate company (even online dating websites have BBB ratings).
- Check the Ripoff Report and other independent third-party review websites
- Never enter information that doesn’t make sense for that type of service to need. For example, it doesn’t make sense that dating websites would need your Social Security number.