Almost everyone has been the victim of an unexpected text, email, phone call, or even a pop-up ad from someone claiming to represent a government agency.
BBB Scam Tracker reports show that government agency impostor scams are not only hitting individuals, but also the second most reported scams by businesses in 2021 and even increasing this year.
The influx of these types of calls seems to be incessant because the scammers are in no way impacted by the “Do Not Call” regulations designed for legitimate telephone solicitations. Their goal is to trick victims into thinking they are in trouble with their social security, unemployment, medicare, tax office, attorney general’s office, and others. Even legitimate companies like Amazon, UPS, FedEx and banks also deal with similar fake ads to potential victims.
The good news is that case reports of money loss incidents have slowed since their peak in early 2021. With increased public awareness, new research from the Better Business Bureau shows that more and more people are recognizing that these calls are scams.
The bad news is that people are now suffering nearly double the money lost when they fall victim to it, and scammers are still hitting thousands.
Additionally, for grant seekers, data from BBB Scam Tracker showed that victims of government grant scams lost more money in 2021. The median loss increased from $800 to $1,000, which making it one of the most expensive and eighth riskiest scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021. .
A clue to the scam is to know that these scammers usually rely on three main tools to deceive people. An urgency to act immediately, fear, or the false promise of getting free or inexpensive money easily from government grants or programs. Another giveaway that is a scam is asking for alternative forms of payment like gift cards, bank transfers, or even cryptocurrency.
No one should be ashamed if they are tricked because these scammers are getting more sophisticated every year. Although most of these scams come from abroad, the calls seem more realistic and the follow-up emails, once riddled with spelling and grammatical errors, become more professional and convincing.
To further confuse victims, government impostor schemes use “spoofing” to make the caller ID appear to come from the real agency.
Studies show that every generation falls prey to government imposters. Although no age group is immune, the amount of lost money increases with age.
From young students looking for scholarships and loans for school to older adults who are tricked into thinking something is wrong with their social security check or accounts, all age groups are targeted.
More than two-thirds of government agency impostor scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021 mentioned Social Security. SSA impersonation scams are also the most reported scams so far in 2022.
Social Security Administration (SSA) impersonators warn the targeted person that their identity has been impersonated and ask them to verify their social security number and other personal information.
In government grant fraud, scammers often contact the consumer using an acquaintance’s hacked social media account. The consumer is informed of a lucrative subsidy program that only costs a small fee to receive, and the scammers keep asking for additional fees. Victims may also be lured to a fake website designed to steal money and information.
Another alarming trend is scammers teaming up with law enforcement such as the FBI, local police, and the sheriff’s office to alert people. The scammer calls and threatens the intended victim with immediate arrest if they do not comply with his demands.
There are a few key points to remember, and I would really appreciate it if you could share them with your family and friends of all ages, as this is a multi-generational issue.
The government does not call people with threats or promises of money. Be extremely careful when receiving unsolicited calls, texts, emails or letters, and investigate the legitimacy by contacting an agency directly. Do not rely on numbers or links included in emails, text messages or caller ID.
Never provide your bank account or other personal information to anyone who contacts you claiming to be associated with a government agency. Always let someone you trust take a second look.
Please, if you come across a scam, report it to BBB Scamtracker even if you haven’t lost any money. The only way to put scammers out of business is to stop giving them business.
• Steve J. Bernas is President and CEO of BBB Chicago and Northern Illinois. He can be contacted at [email protected]