Government Imposter Scams
A lot of times, scammers pose as government officials in order to get you to send them money. They may promise lottery winnings if you pay “taxes,” or threaten you with arrest or a lawsuit if you don’t pay a supposed debt. No matter what tactics they use, their goal remains the same: to con you out of your money. So don’t pay them anything. Let’s look at some ways you can use to help beat a government imposter scam:
- 1. Don’t wire money.
Scammers will often pressure people into wiring money, or they may strongly suggest that they put money on a prepaid debit card and send it to them, for the simple reason that it’s the same as sending cash: once the money is gone, you can’t trace it or get it back. Don’t ever deposit a “winnings” check and wire money later either. THE CHECK IS FAKE, no matter how official it looks, and you’ll wind up owing the bank for any money you take out. Also be sure to not share any account information, or send a check or money order using an overnight delivery or courier service. Scammers use these services to get your money before you realize you’ve been scammed.
- 2. Don’t pay for a prize.
If you enter and win a legitimate sweepstakes or contest, you don’t have to pay insurance, taxes, or shipping costs to collect your winnings. If you’re required to pay, it isn’t a prize, it’s a scam. Companies such as Lloyd’s of London doesn’t insure delivery of sweepstakes winnings. Also, if you didn’t enter a contest, you can’t have won a contest, sweepstakes or lottery. It is illegal to play foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone.
- 3. Don’t give the caller your financial or other personal information.
Never offer or confirm you financial or other sensitive information, like your bank account, credit card, or Social Security number, unless you know who it is you’re dealing with. Con artists and scammers will use a ruse (such as a fake debt collector) to obtain your information and use it to commit identity theft—charging your existing cards, opening new credit card, checking, or savings accounts, writing fraudulent checks, or taking out loans in your name. If you get a call about a debt that is potentially legitimate—but you think the caller isn’t—call the company you owe the money to and tell them about the calls.
- 4. Don’t trust a name or number.
Scammers make use of official-sounding names to earn your trust. It is illegal for any promoter to lie about an affiliation with—or an endorsement by—a government agency or other well-known organization. No matter how good it looks or sounds, their story is fake. No official government worker will ask you to send money to collect a prize, and they will not call to collect on a debt.
To make themselves out to be more legitimate, con artists, also use internet technology to disguise their area code. So although it may seem like they’re calling from Washington, D.C., they could, in fact, be calling from anywhere in the world.
- 5. Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry.
It may not stop calls completely, but it can help to make you skeptical of those you receive from out of nowhere. Many legitimate salespeople honor the Do Not Call list, but scammers will ignore it. Putting your number on the list helps to “screen” your calls for legitimacy and lessen the number of legitimate telemarketing calls you receive. You may register your phone number by going to www.dontcall.gov.
Finally, if you do receive a call from a government imposter, you can file a complaint by going to www.ftc.gov/complaint. Be sure to include the following information:
- Date and time of the call
- Name of the government agency the imposter used
- What they tell you, like the amount of money and the method of payment they ask for
- Phone number of the caller, though scammers can use technology to make a fake number or spoof a real one, law enforcement may still be able to track that number to identify the caller.
- Any other details from the call.