Imposter Scams are So Hot Right Now! Here’s How to Protect Yourself

imposter scam
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You’ve heard of identity theft, naturally.

That’s what happens when some crook gets his grimy mitts on your Social Security number and/or financial information and proceeds to run wild with it, merrily racking up debt in your name.

But what about imposter scams? Are you as familiar with those?

You should be, because for the first time, imposter scams just surpassed identity theft when it comes to the number of consumer complaints that federal officials are getting from the public.

So what is an imposter scam, exactly?

It’s when a fraudster reaches out to you, pretending to be someone trustworthy like a government official or computer technician to convince you to send them money.

One of the most common scams goes like this: Some official-sounding stranger calls you up and claims they’re an IRS agent.

“Bad news, I’m afraid. You’ve been audited and you owe the government money. You need to pay up immediately if you want to avoid a court case, imprisonment or deportation. This is very serious business, sir or ma’am.”

That’s totally an imposter scam. The government will never, ever ask you to wire money. Seriously, tell your would-be scammer to take a hike.

Another common scam to watch out for is the “fake computer technician.” This is when some fraudster falsely claims that you need to purchase some kind of security patch or software license — right away, or something really, really bad will happen to your computer. We’re just trying to help you avoid a problem, ma’am.

Imposters, Debt Collectors and Identity Thieves, Oh My!

All of this information comes from the Federal Trade Commission. One of its jobs is to protect consumers like you and me.

Last year, it received more than 3 million consumer complaints.

The FTC just released its new annual Data Book, compiling data from those 3 million cases from 2016.

Here are the most interesting things about that:

  • As usual, the most common kind of complaint was about debt collectors. In fact, more than a quarter of all the complaints were about debt collectors.
  • Imposter scams were the most common complaint from military personnel.
  • More than 75% of fraud targets said scammers contacted them by phone, not email — way more than just a couple years earlier.
  • Florida, Michigan and Georgia were the worst states for fraud and other complaints, while Florida, Michigan and Delaware were the worst states for identity theft complaints.

What You Can Do To Protect Yourself

So, watch out for imposter fraud. Isn’t it great to have something else to worry about?

Fortunately, the feds are offering tips:

  • Beware of callers asking for a wire transfer. The government won’t ask for one, and it’s illegal for telemarketers to ask you to pay by wire. (Think of wiring money as the equivalent of mailing cash. Once it’s gone, you can’t get it back.)
  • If you get a phone call you’re not sure about, check it out. Call the government agency on a phone line you know is legit — not the phone number given by the suspicious caller.

Your turn: Have you ever been targeted by an imposter scam?

Mike Brassfield ([email protected]) is a senior writer at The Penny Hoarder. He lives in Florida, scam capital of the country.