Consumer Tip: Look Out for Imposter Scams
Imposter scams are one of the fastest-growing types of fraud. These scams come in many varieties, but they work basically the same way. Someone calls you, pretending to be a trustworthy person. Their goal is not to help you, but to gain your trust and get you to send them money. They may pretend to be a government official, a family member dealing with an emergency, a tech support person, or a sweepstakes organization, among other possibilities.
The Federal Trade Commission received 350,000 cases of imposter fraud in 2017. One out of every five people who filed a report lost money to a scammer, for a whopping $328 million in losses.
When in doubt, call the Online Lenders Alliance Consumer Hotline at 1-866-299-7585 to report any concerns. This nationwide, toll-free hotline gathers complaints and points consumers in the right direction, ultimately ensuring that complaints reach the Federal Trade Commission.
Here are some of the imposter frauds that the FTC warned consumers about during April 2018:
September 11th Victim Compensation Fund (VCF). It is hard to believe anyone would exploit a national tragedy for personal gain. Yet the FTC reported a new scam where callers try to line their pockets by pretending to be with the VCF. The callers, using spoofed phone numbers that appear to be from New York area codes, tell people they may be entitled to money. They ask people for personal information such as Social Security numbers, mailing addresses, medical histories, and bank account numbers, to determine if they are eligible.
Anyone receiving a random call with questions about a claim with VCF or potential eligibility for benefits should hang up immediately, The VCF may call you, but it will never ask for a full Social Security number. If you are uncertain whether a caller is legitimately from the VCF, hang up and call the VCF directly at 1-855-885-1555.
Publishers Clearing House. Yes, there is a legitimate Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. But there is a new scam going around that starts with a call or letter saying you’ve won the Publishers Clearing House sweepstakes. Here’s the hitch: To collect your prize, they say, you need to send money to pay for fees and taxes. Typically you’ll be asked to send money by Western Union or MoneyGram, or by obtaining a reloadable card or gift card.
In a variation on this scam, the scammer sends you a realistic-looking fake check in the mail and instructs you to deposit it and send some money back for expenses. But when the deposited check bounces, you could be on the hook for anything you spent against the deposit.
The real Publishers Clearing House says it will never charge you to claim a prize. If someone contacts you claiming to be from the Publishers Clearing House, stop the minute they ask you to send a payment or money card in order to claim the prize. These scams can be reported to Publishers Clearing House by calling them toll free at 1-800-392-4190.
Tech Support Scams. The Federal Trade Commission, which protects consumers against fraud, reported an increase in scammers impersonating the agency and requesting remote access to your computer. The callers pretend to be with the FTC or its refund administrators. Their story is that you’ll quickly receive money that is owed to you if you will just let them connect to your computer.
Tech support scams like this one work in a number of ways. The caller may trick you into installing malware, sell you worthless software, or direct you to a website where you are asked to enter your credit card number and other personal information. They may also con you into buying gift cards or prepaid debit cards.
If you’re not sure whether a phone call or email is legitimate, there are a few signs that can help you decide:
- Legitimate organizations and financial providers won’t contact you out of the blue and ask for personal information such as account numbers, Social Security numbers, or your online IDs and passwords.
- If you unexpectedly receive a call or email from someone who requests personal information, chances are it’s a trap.
- Trust your instinct. If it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. If you’re not sure who’s on the other end of a call or email, listen to your gut. There is nothing wrong with putting an abrupt end to a contact if it makes you uneasy.