Washington, D.C. — The Federal Trade Commission is warning consumers about government imposter scams.

According to the FTC, pretending to represent the government is the favorite tactic of scammers with 1.3 million reports of this type of scam in the past five years. And that’s just the people who reported the scams. Victims reported losing $450 million dollars to these scams. The median individual loss is close to $1000. 

And don’t think just older folks fall for these tricks. People ages 20 to 59 lose money to these scams at higher rates than people 60 and older. But older people who fall for the scams tend to lose more money. 

Most of these scams start with a phone call. Among the favorite approaches:

  • The phony Social Security call that says your account has been frozen or your number has been used for criminal activity.
  • The health scam. Call now for a free back brace or prescription benefit. Or there’s been a problem with your health insurance.
  • The IRS imposter. You have unpaid taxes and there’s a lawsuit. Or even more frightening, there’s been a warrant issued for your arrest.
  • Fake government grant. You’re told you’re eligible for some type of grant money. Or money from a settlement.
  • Fake law enforcement  Your’re told a warrant has been issued for your arrest or that the FBI has detected illegal material on your computer.

These scammers also send official looking emails and sometimes use pop-up ads that seem to take over your computer.

Often times they ask for payment with gift cards or wire transfers, so there’s no way to get the money back once it has been sent. 

And don’t think you can verify just who is calling you by checking the caller ID on your phone. These guys know how to fake that to make it look real.

Be suspicious of any calls that demand money or make threats. Don’t give them information and don’t send money. Take a moment and a few deep breaths. These people count on your reacting out of fear and not thinking it over. 

If you have any reason to suspect it might be a real issue, look up the phone number for the actual agency and call them yourself. Don’t respond to the email or call any number someone who calls you leaves in a message. 

Never send gift cards or wire transfers. No legitimate government agency asks for payment that way.