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  • Common Imposter Scams

    Imposter scams may all look different at first glance, but in the end they all work the same way: a scammer, pretending to be someone you can trust, contacts you and convinces you to send them money or give them your personal information. Here are some of the most common imposter scams:


    Government Official

    A scammer impersonating a representative from the Social Security Administration, IRS, or other government office will call, text, or email you and tell you that you owe them money (they can even spoof government phone numbers and email addresses to make their contact info seem legitimate). They'll say you didn't show up for jury duty and you owe a fine, or you owe taxes, or government benefits are suspended until you pay a balance. They'll threaten you with a lawsuit, arrest, or deportation if you don't pay within 24 hours. Many times, the scammer will instruct you to go to a store and purchase gift cards and give them the codes on the cards, instead of mailing a payment to the Social Security office or paying with your debit/credit card over the phone. This method of payment eliminates any opportunity to trace where/to whom your money is going, and once you provide the gift card codes, your money is gone for good. Scammers use this form of imposter scam to prey on victims' sense of panic and urgency, and they depend on their victims' lack of technological knowledge to easily steal from them. 

    If this happens to you:

    • Hang up the phone (even if they urge you to stay on the line).
    • Do not respond to or open any links in the text.
    • Do not click on any links in the email.
    • Contact someone you trust, and have them help you research, report, and spread the word so your community can be on alert.


    Online dating is a very popular way to look for love these days, and scammers are right there among the prospects. Imagine this: you're browsing through potential partners on a dating app or social media site, when you come across someone that seems amazing: good-looking, thoughtful and kind, shares similar interests and values, holds a great conversation, a perfect match! Even though you've never met in person, you quickly fall in love. Soon, you're asked to help pay for their car repairs, or to chip in for their grandmother's ER visit, or even pay for a plane ticket for them to come visit you. Scammers prey on innocent people's emotions and vulnerability to gain their trust quickly and get their money easily. Even without stealing money, scammers build relationships with innocent people who, over time, will share personal information that can ultimately be used to steal their identity. This type of scam often goes unreported because of the victims' sense of shame over getting emotionally involved with a person that 1) didn't really exist and 2) stole from them. 

    If this happens to you:

    • Never send money to an online love interest you have not met in person, and definitely do not share personal information that can be used to open accounts or make large purchases.
    • Trust your gut, stop communicating with that person, and talk to someone you trust about your concern.
    • If you're certain you've been talking to a scammer, report them.
    • If you've already taken the bait and sent money, contact your financial institution right away.

    Family Emergency

    In a family emergency scam, a scammer will call you, pretending to be a dear relative (usually a niece/nephew or grandchild), or even law enforcement or a lawyer saying they are physically with your family member. Nowadays, scammers may go as far as using artificial intelligence (AI) to clone the voice of someone you know! They'll tell you they're in trouble and need help; they've been arrested and need to be bailed out. They'll urge you not to tell anyone about it, and they'll pay you right back if you just help them this one time! They'll ask you to pay quickly, with a money transfer, overnight money order, cryptocurrency, or the gift card method mentioned above. Scammers depend on the sense of urgency in wanting to protect and help your relative.

    If this happens to you:

    • Even if you recognize the voice of the person calling, get off the phone and call/text the family member in question at a number you know belongs to them, to confirm whether they're really in trouble.
    • If you can't reach them, call someone in your family to verify, even if the caller urges you to keep it a secret.
    • If you've already paid the scammer, report the fraud and spread the word so you can help prevent it happening to others.


    Tech Support

    This is a tried-and-true method for scammers. You are surfing the web on your computer when you see a pop-up window that says "A virus has been detected on your computer! Click here to download a program to get rid of it!" Alternatively, you may get a phone call out of the blue from someone impersonating a big-name tech company that is alerting you to a "problem" with your computer, and you need to allow them remote access to your computer for them to "fix" it. If you click on the link or allow that remote access, not only would you be making all your private data vulnerable to a cybercriminal, they will also probably charge you for the service or program that you didn't need in the first place, thereby also stealing your money and financial information. Scammers depend on your lack of technological expertise to convince you that contacting you to inform you of a problem only they can fix is a normal occurrence, when in fact, no legitimate tech company would ever do so.

    If this happens to you:

    • If you think there is actually a problem with your computer, run a scan with your current security software, or take it to someone you know and trust to fix it.
    • Contact manufacturer support to address any ongoing issues with your computer.
    • If you've already paid the scammer, call your financial institution right away to stop or reverse the transaction.
    • If you've allowed remote access, update your computer's security software and run a scan.
    • If you gave the tech support scammer any password information, change that password right away, and change it on any other websites or programs you use it for.

    Ultimately, the goal of an impostor is to gain your trust so that they can convince you to share personal data or give them money. The quickest way to go about this is to get your emotions involved. So before you panic or even fall head-over-heels over someone you don't quite know, take a breath, do your research, and ask someone you do know and trust, to help you do the right thing.


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