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Avoiding Impersonation Scams

Scams are dishonest schemes used to cheat innocent people out of money or steal their personal identifying information. Impersonation scams involve unscrupulous people pretending to be someone they are not. They use this form of trickery for the same no-good purpose of cheating nice people or deceiving vulnerable folks into giving away information. These impersonators seek to gain things like bank account numbers, credit card information, social security numbers, and other personal identifying data. In some cases, potential victims may be talked into buying gift cards, a tell-tale warning sign of a scam. The scammer may demand or instruct the victim to provide the claim code on the gift card. Understand that no legitimate transaction requires you to pay with gift cards. If you are asked to provide a gift card to someone who contacts you, alarms should go off in your head that this is a scam. Cut off contact immediately and report the incident to the Federal Trade Commission.

Impersonation scammers are criminals who trick people into believing their false identities. They may communicate with their intended victims using various methods, including person-to-person contact, or reach out by phone, message, email, or social media platforms. They typically pretend to be some or any of the following: police officers, IRS, FBI, or Secret Service Agents, U.S. postal workers, lawyers, and more. Here’s what to know about these types of scams:

  • Police officer impersonator scam – In this scam, the scammer impersonates a member of the police department. Often, they will ask for money or gift cards and threaten potential victims, stating that a warrant for arrest will be issued for those who fail to comply with their demands.  Please be reminded that police officers will not contact you demanding money or ask you to buy gift cards. Should you wish to donate to the police, it is best to contact your local police department directly and never call back a phone number given to you.
  • Federal agent impersonator scam – In this scam, the scammer poses as a federal agent. They generally reach potential victims by phone. Callees are told to hold to speak to a federal agent. If you get this call, hang up. Understand that federal agents will not call you out of the blue, so do not engage with these scam callers. Sometimes caller IDs may be spoofed so that it looks like the call is coming from a legitimate source, such as the IRS. However, this is another trick that is used to gain the confidence of the person being scammed. The IRS does not contact individuals randomly and out of the blue. Report IRS or treasury related scam calls to [email protected].
  • Lawyer impersonator scam – In this scam, a person pretends to be a legal authority, such as a lawyer. They may falsely state that a family member is in jail and needs money to be released. Or they may say that they represent a family member who was in a car accident and needs money. These calls are phony baloney. No lawyers will call you out of the blue asking for money.
  • Grandparent scam – In this scam, the victim gets a call from someone posing as his or her grandchild. The caller sounds frantic and says that they are in trouble – they explain that something terrible has happened such as an automobile accident, house fire, arrest, or robbery. They will ask for money. This call is BS. The scam caller hopes to take advantage of a helpful grandparent and they often seek out elderly people with declining cognitive reasoning. They may ask the grandparent to put cash in an envelope and leave it somewhere. Do not engage with these callers. If  you believe a family member is in trouble, hang up and call them directly or ask a trusted family member to check up on them. Do not call them back on a phone number provided to you by the scammer.
  • Tech support impersonator scam – In this scam, the scammer may claim that there is something wrong with your computer. They may falsely state that they are from a well-known company,  such as Apple or Microsoft. Often, they threaten to harm or shut down your computer if you do not pay them. Hang up and do not engage with these callers. Understand that computer tech people will not contact you out of the blue. Any caller who threatens you should be reported to the authorities.
  • Bank employee impersonator scam – In this scam, a person may pretend to work at a banking institution. They will send you a check in the mail but later say the bank made a mistake and overpaid you. They will tell you to deposit the check and then give them the difference via a gift card. Meanwhile the “bank check” is a fake and you will be out that money. Banks do not send people checks out of the blue nor do they ask for gift cards. These are red flags of a scam!

Scammers have a bunch of tricks up their sleeves, and thus it’s vital for people to stay on guard. There are several ways to protect yourself from them, the most important being not to engage with people you do not know. Do not open emails you do not trust and do not click on links. Guard your personal information and never give out your personal banking or identifying information. It’s always best to err on the side of caution. And do not worry about being rude to callers. If they seem suspicious, simply hang up as it’s better to be safe than sorry.

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