Government scam alert: Beware of impersonators


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Scammers pose as government officials and use intimidation to take money from victims.

Recently, the FBI warned West Michigan residents to be vigilant about government scams where criminals impersonate government officials. These scammers use numerous ploys to try to get money from their victims. The key to their operation is taking advantage of a relationship of trust.

The scammers’ ploys

One way scammers gain trust is by spoofing, or faking, a legitimate FBI phone number. When the recipient sees “Federal Bureau of Investigation” on their caller I.D. they trust that is who is really calling.

The Federal Trade Commission warns consumers to watch out for these scenarios:

  • A caller promises lottery winnings if you pay “taxes” or other fees. Sometimes they say you’ve won a sweepstakes prize.
  • A caller asks for money for unpaid loans. They often request prepaid debit cards or gift cards (these are as valuable as cash to a scammer).
  • The caller uses the name of a fake government agency that is similar to a real agency, and may even give a “badge” number.

The best thing to do is to ignore calls from any numbers you don’t recognize. Don’t answer any calls from numbers you aren’t familiar with.

If you answer, you may get a recording asking you to hold on or push a number to be taken off the list; don’t do it! Actions like these only help the scammers collect more information.

If you do answer and give the scammer the opportunity to talk, they may have some personal information that leads you to believe they are a legitimate caller. For example, they may have the last four digits of your Social Security number. They’ll use this information to fool victims into sharing even more information, like full Social Security numbers, PINs or bank account numbers.

If the recipient questions the caller, they’re often met with intimidation tactics. The impersonator will make threats like saying a lawsuit or charges will be filed, the victim’s property will be confiscated, bank accounts will be frozen, or the victim will be placed under arrest if they don’t comply. If you find yourself in a conversation like this, hang up.

Don’t send money in any form. Ever.

Government employees are not permitted to ask you to wire money or add money to a prepaid debit card. Anyone asking you to do so is up to no good.

The FBI says:

“Be advised, law enforcement agencies DO NOT call or email individuals threatening them or demanding that they send money. Scammers often spoof caller ID information, and these phone calls are fraudulent even if they appear to be coming from a law enforcement agency’s legitimate number. If you question the legitimacy of a call, hang up immediately and report the call to law enforcement (using the published number for that agency) and the FBI.”

If you actually owe the IRS money, their first notification will be by mail. The IRS will NOT make a first contact by phone, email or text. When it comes to making a payment, the IRS will NOT ask for a prepaid debit card or money transfer. The IRS will never require a specific type of payment.

How to report government scams

If you get a call from a government imposter, file a complaint at ftc.gov/complaint.

Be sure to include:

  • date and time of the call
  • name of the government agency the imposter used
  • what they tell you, including the amount of money and the payment method they ask for
  • phone number of the caller; although scammers may spoof a real one, law enforcement agents may be able to track that number to identify the caller
  • any other details from the call

Share this information widely

Warn your friends and family about callers who scam people out of their money. Share this article or bring up the topic in conversation.

You can also share this short FCC video on social media: Don’t Hang On, Hang Up!

The more awareness we all have about government imposters, the less likely the scammers’ ploys will work.

Consumers provides banking services for more than 100,000 members. If you have banking questions, call us at 800-991-2221. We make it easy to bank how you want, when you want.

Federally insured by NCUA

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