According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), over 12,000 people in the U.S. were victims of government impersonation scams in 2020 alone and lost more than $120 million in total. The best way to prevent yourself from falling victim to one of these government scams is by educating yourself about them.
Government scams have the same purpose as any other scams. Scammers make up a story to steal your money, get access to your data, or steal your identity. In the case of these specific scams, the scammer will claim to be representing a government agency to add legitimacy and a level of fear to their claims.
For example, you could get a call from someone who says they work for the Social Security Administration. They could tell you that you are due extra benefits or that your Social Security number has been suspended. Then they will tell you that you must pay a fee to get those additional benefits or activate your Social Security number. After you pay, the scammer takes off with your money.
Alternatively, the scammer may tell you to click a link that takes you to a phishing website to add more details to your Social Security account and then use your details to steal your identity.
The best way to prevent yourself from falling victim to this type of scam is to know how these government agencies interact with the public. If the "government representative" you are talking to doesn't follow the same protocol, chances are you are dealing with a scammer. Here are some of the warning signs of a scam:
Over half of imposter scams reported to the FTC are instigated by scammers masquerading as representatives of government agencies, and there is quite a variety of these scams. Here are some of the most common ones.
There is a wide variety of Social Security scams. For example, you could receive Social Security scam mail demanding you call a phone number where the scammer will ask you for sensitive information. Or you could receive a fake Social Security email that leads you to a phishing website.
You could get a Social Security scam phone call where the scammer will ask for a payment or personally identifiable information. Or they could direct you to a Social Security phishing site to enter your Social Security number and other information they will use for identity theft.
With this scam, you will receive a message from the scammer that states there is something wrong with your unemployment claim and ask you to click a link to correct your details. The link will go to a phishing site, and the scammer will use your information to steal your identity.
In this type of scam, the scammer will send you an email, call you on the phone, or even send you a letter claiming to be from the IRS. The scammer will trick you into giving them your Social Security number or other sensitive data by having you click on a link to a phishing site or just ask you for the details over the phone. Once the scammer gets this information, they will use it to steal your identity.
The scammer will contact you and claim to be from the DEA in this scam. Then they will present you with "proof" that you ordered pills online without a prescription and demand that you pay a fine or you will be looking at felony charges.
In an FBI impersonation scam, the scammers may call you on the phone or contact you in person, claiming to be FBI agents. Once the scammer has you convinced, they will try to gain access to your house to steal items, claim that your Social Security number has been stolen to get you to transfer funds to a "special government account," and more.
Beating a government impersonation scam requires you to be vigilant. First, be on the lookout for the red flags listed above. If you notice anything sketchy in the message you received, then use the following tips to avoid falling victim to the scam:
Depending on the type of government impersonation scam you fell victim to, some or all of the following steps will help you recover.
You want to start by reporting the scam to the authorities, including:
If the scammer contacted you via social media, you should also report it to the social media platform. If they contacted you via mail, you can report it to the U.S. Postal Inspection Service.
If you have been scammed out of money, notify the bank, credit card provider, money wire service, or provider of your gift card. Request that the charges be reversed. If you entered any banking details on a phishing website, notify them, and they will help you prevent the loss of your money.
If you downloaded anything from the scammer's email or message or clicked on a link, you will also want to scan your system for viruses and malware. The scammer could have infected your computer.
If you clicked on a link, were directed to a phishing site, and entered your login credentials on the fake site, you should change your password at the official site so the scammer can't access your government account.
If you are worried that the scammer may steal your identity because you entered personal information on a phishing website, you can create a fraud alert or credit freeze to protect your credit. To create a fraud alert, all you have to do is contact Equifax, Experian, or TransUnion. Whichever credit reporting agency you contact will report it to the other two agencies. To freeze your credit, contact each agency separately.
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