February 15, 2023 · Credit, Investment, Savings, Security

Hang Up on Imposter Scams—Part 1

According the U.S. Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2021, last year more than $2.3 billion was reported lost to imposter fraud in the United States, and, overall, this was ranked as the second-highest type of fraud, after identity theft. June 2022 data from the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network showed that in the top 10 fraud report categories for the state of Georgia, imposter scams reported were ranked number one, and they outranked the number two fraud of “online shopping and negative reviews” by a factor of two to one.

Imposter scams seem to never stop, and no one is immune to being victimized by them. But you can know more about imposter scams—how they operate, what are some of the imposter scam variations, and actions you can take if you’re contacted by a fraudster posing as someone else.

Beware of the basic imposter scam; here’s how it can work

You get a cellphone call (or email or text message) from either your bank, credit union, credit card company, other financial institution or some branch of the U.S. government, such as the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Internal Revenue Service (IRS). And…

  • The caller is polite and professional. They know your name.
  • They have some specific account details.
  • Their phone number shows up as being the number of a company you have accounts with or a U.S. government office.
  • They say there is an urgent problem with your account and you need to fix it now. The caller stresses that money could be stolen from your account (or some other loss could occur, such as permanently losing your Social Security number) if you do not stop it during the call.
  • The crooks will offer to help you work through the problem, but need some account access details from you such a sign-on name, password, date of birth, security questions answers, or other information that is used to get into your account. Alternatively, the caller needs you to pay money immediately to fix the problem, such as paying federal taxes that are owed, preventing your Social Security number from being canceled, or helping a relative get out of jail.
  • The caller may want you to stay on the call to fix the problem, and they may offer to send you an email or text message with a link you need to click.

What should you do?

  • Don’t trust your caller ID. Caller ID can be faked for a company or government agency. 
  • Hang up on the caller because it is likely a scammer calling you.
  • Look up the number of the company or government office that supposedly called you, and call it to check what is or is not happening with your account.
  • Remember to not give out any sensitive account information to anyone on a call, or by email or text.

An experienced and talented imposter can contact you and perfectly impersonate a customer service representative from a financial institution, other company, or the federal or state government—they sound convincing because they are convincing; that’s how they steal your money. Crooks have many different scams (with variations), but here are some to look out for.

Remember—If you think your Delta Community accounts have been compromised, contact our Member Care Center via our toll-free number at 800-544-3328.

Some of the different types of imposter scams to look out for

Break up with romance scams on social media and dating sites. You meet someone who seems interesting and fun on a social media or dating website, but then they have a very bad personal problem and need just a little money—maybe a small personal loan—to fix the problem. But the personal “problem” may not get fixed, and your new friend needs more money…as part of their illegal romance scam. Romance scams can wipe out a victim’s life savings as they try to help someone who claims to love them but only wants their money. Be extremely cautious if the online conversations begin to involve stories of personal and family hardship and then becomes requests for financial support for debts (medical, legal, housing and others) or travel assistance. Try to verify who people are, and don’t take any actions—such as sending money to anyone that you do not know well—without talking about the situation in detail with friends and family.

Beware of Social Security number scams; your Social Security number (SSN) is not being revoked or suspended. Another classic scam that seems to never get outdated is Social Security number scams. You may can get call from someone claiming to be from the U.S. government Social Security Administration (SSA). The caller may say that your Social Security number has been suspended because of some sort of suspicious activity, or because the number has been connected to a crime—or that the government is going to cancel your SSN. Alternatively, the scammer wants to "confirm” your SSN to reactivate it. The scammer may threaten that your bank account is about to be seized by the federal government—but he’ll tell you what to do to keep it safe, which involves paying money. Worryingly, your phone’s caller ID could show the real SSA’s national phone number (1-800-772-1213), but it’s really a fake number with a fake call. Social Security numbers cannot just be easily suspended, and for the government to seize anyone’s property it usually has to start with a judicial process. Also, if someone has a problem with a federal government agency, then the agency will usually first contact them with a letter in the U.S. mail to create a paper trail of correspondence for their records—and the government will keep sending letters while the problem is still active.

Internal Revenue Service imposter scams—you don’t owe any back taxes. One of the always popular schemes from crooks has them acting as a representative of the U.S. Internal Revenue Service (IRS). The fake IRS representative says you owe the government taxes (or some other problem) and you better pay up—now, because it could seize your money, freeze your financial accounts, take your home, fine you, or do something else that’s pretty bad for you. If you receive a call that sounds similar to this, then it’s a tax scam.

The IRS does not:

  • Initiate contact with taxpayers by email, text messages or social media to request any personal or financial information.
  • Call to demand immediate payment using a specific or unusual payment method such as a prepaid debit card, gift card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency. Generally, the IRS will first mail a bill using the U.S. Postal Service to any taxpayer who owes taxes.
  • Threaten to immediately bring in local police, FBI, or other law enforcement groups to have the taxpayer arrested for owing back taxes.
  • Demand that taxes be paid right away without first giving taxpayers the opportunity to question or appeal the amount owed through a standard process with several steps.
  • Call unexpectedly about a tax refund; official federal tax communications are almost always initiated with letters in the U.S. mail.

If you get one of these imposter calls, then:

What else can you do if an imposter calls you?

If you think someone tried to scam you, contact the Federal Trade Commission at 1-877-FTC-HELP, 1-877-ID-THEFT, or online at ReportFraud.ftc.gov. The FTC also now has another site that can help potential or actual scam victims, Money Matters, that should be visited. You can also watch its video on Why Report Fraud to learn how your report can help stop scammers. The U.S. Department of Justice has a list of government agencies where different types of fraud can be reported. Fraud can also be reported to state and local authorities; for some states, fraud reporting is overseen by the state’s attorney general’s office.

Interested in more safety suggestions when you’re online? Here are some...

We have a few more blog and security posts on managing online personal security:

For anyone interested in information on financial guidance, check out the free Delta Community Financial Education Center webinars on a range of money-related topics. You can visit the Financial Education Center's Events & Seminars page to register for its no-cost, on-demand webinars.

Part 2 of this blog post continues in a few weeks.