3 Ways to Spot a Government Imposter Scam

Can’t Even Trust Caller ID

Beware of Scammers Disguised as Government Employees.

Every day, technology is helping scammers get better at convincing their victims that they are calling from an actual U.S. government agency. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), there are three sure-fire ways to detect these government imposter scams, saving you a bundle of money.

Using a totally modern technique called “spoofing,” these scammers can make your caller ID display things like “IRS” of “FTC” and phone numbers starting with the “202” area code for Washington, D.C.

The really “expert” scammers can even make caller IDs display actual government agency phone numbers.

How the Scams Work

While their goal is the same – to steal your money – the premises or “hooks” of the two main government imposter scams are as different as day and night. One claims you owe the government money, the other claims the government has money for you.

  • Pay Up Or Else: In the most common scam scenario, the government imposter says you owe the IRS or some other government agency taxes or another unpaid debt, and warns that if you don’t pay up immediately, you will be arrested. The scammer will then tell you that the only way you can pay is to put the money on a prepaid debit card and give them the number. This, says the FTC, is something no real government agency would ever ask you to do.
  • You Are Already a Winner: In this case, the imposter claims that the FTC is “supervising” a nationwide sweepstakes, in which – guess what -- you are a big winner. The scammers then tell you that your money will be released as soon as you pay them for shipping, taxes and handling expenses. Of course, it’s all a fake .There is no sweepstakes and the only real money involved is yours.

    Hot to Spot the Scams

    According to the real FTC, there are three things to remember to protect yourself from falling victim to a government imposter spoofing scam:

    • No real federal government agency or its employees ever ask people to send money for unpaid debts or prizes. The FTC does not supervise sweepstakes, and the when the IRS contacts taxpayers about unpaid taxes, they usually do so by regular postal mail, not by telephone.
    • Real federal government agencies and employees never ask people to wire them money, give them their bank account or bank card numbers, or use a prepaid debit card to pay for anything. Prepaid cards and money transfers, warns the FTC, are like sending cash -- once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.
    • Caller ID does not protect you. Using “spoofing” technology, scammers can make caller ID display false information. In addition, scammers may already know personal information about you when they call, so do not take that as sign that they are legitimate.

    How to Report Imposter Scammers

    The FTC and IRS want to know about and shut down the government imposter scammers.

    You can file a complaint with the FTC using its secure, online Complaint Assistant Web site. Select “Other” and then “Imposter Scams” from the menus. If the scam involves the IRS, add “IRS Telephone Scam” in the notes.

    IRS imposter scams can also be reported directly to the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online or by calling 800-366-4484.

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    Your Citation
    Longley, Robert. "3 Ways to Spot a Government Imposter Scam." ThoughtCo, May. 17, 2016, thoughtco.com/ways-to-spot-government-imposter-scam-3321151. Longley, Robert. (2016, May 17). 3 Ways to Spot a Government Imposter Scam. Retrieved from https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-to-spot-government-imposter-scam-3321151 Longley, Robert. "3 Ways to Spot a Government Imposter Scam." ThoughtCo. https://www.thoughtco.com/ways-to-spot-government-imposter-scam-3321151 (accessed December 18, 2017).