- How Criminals Impersonate the FBI
- Why Criminals Impersonate the FBI
- Commit The Crime—Do The Time & Pay The Fine
- Law Enforcement Vehicle Impersonation
Hollywood prop IDs of X-Files Agents Mulder and Scully are easy enough to find online. So are the arrays of federal agent gear sold as Cosplay accessories. Memorabilia and costumes are one thing, but actually impersonating the FBI is a serious crime and far from innocent. We go through the details and motivations of face-to-face impersonations of FBI agents and how to spot these frauds.
How Criminals Impersonate the FBI
Scammers use various techniques to impersonate FBI agents or other federal agents, with the most common being phone scams.
Criminals are using telephone calls to impersonate FBI agents, however, this is mostly done through a recorded message:
📞 This is Special Agent Walsh from the FBI. We are calling to inform you that you Social Security number has been used to open bank accounts and that the government would seize those accounts.To protect your money, funds should be transferred to accounts specifically set up by the government, which would be protected until the situation is resolved, at which point your money would then be returned.Failure to transfer money could lead to loss of funds and possible arrest
This is a scam.
The FBI won't call you to talk about where you need to move money and where you need to pay. The FBI won't call to threaten arrest (if they want you, they'll just come get you—there will be no threat).
It's important to note that the FBI report to Americans that their outbound phone number has been spoofed so calls can sometimes look they are coming from an FBI office. You must hang up the call and verify directly.
Solution: If you have received a call from someone purporting to be from the FBI, you must ask for the agent's name and their location.
Next, search here for your local FBI Field Office and call them directly.
This is important—do not ask the 'agent' for the number of their office as a scammer will give you a fake so that you can back in contact with the scammer. Remember to ask for:
- The agent's name
- Their location
Fake Credentials & Fake FBI Badges
Fake FBI badges are available on Amazon, eBay, and almost every Halloween shop. Fake badges are everywhere and are hard to detect. An impersonator is going to lie to you and say that they are not allowed to give out badges.
Solution: If you have someone who looks to be impersonating an FBI officer, follow the same steps as above.
- Ask for the agent's name.
- Ask for location.
- Call back directly using the FBI Field Office locator.
In reality, federal agents carry serialized, photograph credentials that identify each specific agent and unique badges consistent with the same agency. Specific markings and designs of authentic credentials are not made known to the public. Federal agencies do not commonly sharing the imagery, so law enforcement can more readily spot the fakes.
Fake Clothing & Uniforms With “Police,” “FBI,” or “Federal Agent”
There are many costumes available on the internet that allow someone to impersonate an FBI officer. If someone appears at your doorstep with clothing or accessories that have FBI or other agent credentials on it, it doesn't mean they're genuine.
Police can quickly validate the identity of someone claiming to be the FBI or another agency’s agent through interagency office correspondence.
Verbally Identifying as an FBI Agent, Without Identification
Many scammers and criminals are ill-prepared and just try to come up with something on the spot. Again, ask for name, badge ID, and location and verify with the local office.
What to Do If You See an Imposter
If you have your doubts, be polite, but insist on calling for the local uniformed police to alleviate your uncertainty or offer to continue the conversation in the lobby of the local police station. Don’t let the suspected impersonator direct you. Make the call to police yourself. Take your own car (separately from the suspected impersonator) to the local police station. Be polite, but don’t give up your control.
Why Criminals Impersonate the FBI
There are a variety of reasons why people may impersonate law enforcement, including:
- Financial scams and crime
- For an ego-trip
- To evade law enforcement
- To gain benefits
- To commit other crimes
According to Federal Trade Commission, government agent impersonators have taken over $450 million from Americans in scams since 2014.
Without having earned the credentials, without bearing the responsibility of the badge, and without integrity, some people will seek out the swagger they perceive federal agents have in wielding authority. For instance, in March 2021, a man in Alabama wearing a pistol in a shoulder holster went out of his way to interact with a police officer directing traffic near a school. The man parked his car in the middle of the road, then spoke confrontationally with the officer and drove off.
A short time later, the man approached a worker outside of a nearby business—this time pointing his gun, claiming to be an FBI agent. The worker and other employees arriving didn’t believe the man was really an agent, and eventually, the man left. Police later tracked the man to a local residence, where he was arrested. The pistol was recovered, as was an AK-47 rifle in the trunk of the man’s car.
Beware of 'Agents' Working on Their Own
Most special agents work in pairs or whole groups.
And while there are times when a federal agent engages someone solo, those times are few and far between. A solo operating agent may be a sign of impersonation.
Evasion of Law Enforcement
In other instances, impersonators have brazenly tried to scam police who pulled them over. In 2018, a man in Kansas pulled over by police tried to get out of the speeding ticket by pretending to be an FBI agent. The man presented the officer with an FBI identification card with his picture on it. He was arrested and later pled guilty in federal court to the impersonation. The man was sentenced to a year probation and a $1,000 fine.
In another instance, in 2019, A woman in Collier County, Florida, was approached by police at a rest stop for improperly parking her car in the lot. Police found that the woman had an active arrest warrant. She claimed to be an FBI agent to avoid arrest, tried to “pull rank,” and drove off. She was pulled over by other officers two more times before she was finally arrested.
Other impersonators pretend to be FBI agents to get special treatment. Seattle police are still looking for a man who posed as an FBI agent and stole $128,000 from a Seattle money wiring service. In 2020, a woman in Georgia was arrested for pretending to be an FBI agent to get free meals from a restaurant. The woman provided no credentials or badge but insisted she would arrest staff at a Chick-fil-A if they didn’t comply. After staff called the police, the woman continued her rouse, claiming her credentials were electronic, and as she was handcuffed, she spoke into her shirt as though she was talking into a two-way radio.
After the arrest, Rockmart Police Chief Randy Turner told news media: “We would like to inform our citizens to call 911 if someone is claiming to be an officer if they aren’t in a marked car, or in a proper uniform, or if they don’t have the proper credentials.”
In another instance, A man outside Austin, Texas, claimed to be an FBI agent to get an out-of-state prescription of fentanyl filled at Texas pharmacies. He claimed to be on assignment from out of state and wore a lanyard with a fake FBI ID card. The man also displayed fake FBI documents supporting his request for the prescriptions to be filled out of state. An investigation led to the man’s arrest, and he was later convicted in federal court for impersonating a federal agent.
To Commit Crimes
In 2015, two men were convicted of kidnapping and attempted kidnapping after pretending to be FBI agents to abduct women in Buffalo, NY. According to county prosecutors, the men pulled up in their SUV by a woman walking along a street. Donning FBI clothing and badges, they identified themselves as FBI agents and attempted to pull the woman into their vehicle. She resisted, and they drove off.
A short time later, the men pulled up to another woman two blocks away. This time, the men exited their vehicle, identified themselves as FBI agents, handcuffed the woman, and then forced her into their SUV and drove away.
Meanwhile, the woman from the initially failed abduction had gotten the attention of police and directed them to where the FBI impersonators had driven.
In each of these instances of impersonation, regardless of motive, police intervention was vital in resolving the situation. Calling the police on established police dispatch phone lines—or 911 if it’s a true emergency, under threat of harm or violence—is a surefire way to clarify whether someone really is an agent.
Commit The Crime—Do The Time & Pay The Fine
Getting caught impersonating an FBI agent (or any federal agent ) can lead to big trouble. Laws and penalties vary from state to state, and federal charges may also apply. In California, according to Sec. 538d (b)(1) of the state Penal Code:
Any person, other than the one who by law is given the authority of a peace officer, who willfully wears, exhibits, or uses the badge of a peace officer with the intent of fraudulently impersonating a peace officer, or of fraudulently inducing the belief that he or she is a peace officer, is guilty of a misdemeanor punishable by imprisonment in a county jail not to exceed one year, by a fine not to exceed two thousand dollars ($2,000), or by both that imprisonment and fine.
Federally, the stakes for getting caught and charged can get even higher. According to U.S. Code Sec. 912:
Whoever falsely assumes or pretends to be an officer or employee acting under the authority of the United States or any department, agency or officer thereof, and acts as such, or in such pretended character demands or obtains any money, paper, document, or thing of value, shall be fined under this title or imprisoned not more than three years, or both.
Law Enforcement Vehicle Impersonation
More sophisticated impersonators may outfit their vehicles with flashing and strobing lights to fool motorists into believing the feds or police are pulling them over. Other impersonators may go so far as to purchase fleet-auctioned police cruisers that have been taken out of service, some of which may still bear the classic black-and-white body panel paint or still have a driver’s side spotlight affixed and functional.
Real police and federal agents do utilize unmarked vehicles in conducting surveillance and enforcement operations. However, if you are unsure of who is pulling you over, there are steps you can take. The Colorado State University Police Department offers sound advice about potential law enforcement impersonations and vehicle stops:
- Put on your hazard lights, drive the speed limit, and call 911. Notify the 911 dispatcher that someone is trying to pull you over in an unmarked car, and you’re unsure whether or not it’s legitimately the police. The dispatcher can verify whether or not the person in the unmarked car is a legitimate law enforcement offer. If you cannot call 911, drive to a well-lit, busy area such as a busy grocery store.
- Do not flee or try to evade the unmarked vehicle trying to pull you over. Instead, continue driving the speed limit.
- Don’t stop your car or get out until you’re able to confirm the person pulling you over is a legitimate police officer.
- If the dispatcher can’t confirm that the person pulling you over is a police officer, stay on the line with them and ask for police assistance. Then, continue to drive to the nearest police station.
- Do not provide personal information or documents—e.g., your insurance information or driver’s license—to someone you think is impersonating the police or government agency.
- If you are given documents that seem suspicious, contact the issuing agency to confirm whether or not they’re legitimate.
- Report any suspicious activity to the police immediately.