Imposter Scam Artists Are Everywhere – Here’s How to Avoid Being a Victim
Has this ever happened to you?
Your phone rings. It’s not a number you recognize, but it could be important, so you answer. The person on the other end of the line tells you they are from the IRS, Medicare, Social Security – even your local Nebraska-based bank. The message is urgent, almost ominous. They tell you a bill is overdue, your coverage is in danger of being terminated, or that you owe thousands of dollars in back taxes. Not to worry, they say. You can resolve the problem quite simply by making an immediate payment or providing highly personal data to the stranger you’re speaking with.
If this sounds familiar, you’ve had an encounter with an imposter scam artist, and you aren’t alone. In 2018, imposter scams were the top reported fraud to the state of Nebraska’s Attorney General’s office, as well as to the Federal Trade Commission. These imposter scams are dangerously common.
“Imposter scammers stole nearly $488 million from Americans in 2018,” said AARP Nebraska State President Dave Holmquist. “Most of these fraudsters pretend to be from a government agency, and their intimidation tactics work. Nebraskans need to recognize the red flags to protect themselves and their loved ones from getting caught up in these costly scams.”
One out of five fraud complaints to the Nebraska Attorney General’s Office involved imposter schemes, and the above is just one example of the many ways that unscrupulous predators use the telephone or email to quickly extract money from trusting individuals. It’s time to arm yourself with some basic knowledge from the AARP Fraud Watch Network that will help you see through these scams.
KNOW WHAT TO LOOK FOR
First things first: learn how to identify the problem. The two main methods these criminals use to contact you are email and telephone. As noted, they can be messages from government agencies or banks. Some will claim they need to help you with an urgent tech problem on your phone or computer. They can also pose as charities needing your support for a good cause. Some will claim to be a close relative or loved one in crisis. Many pretend to bring good news: you’ve won a lottery or a government grant. These are examples of short-term imposter scams, and they will always end with a request for funds or personal data that you must always secure.
Long-term imposter scams look a little different. These grifters will invest weeks cultivating relationships with you on social media outlets, like Facebook or a dating site. They take more time to gain your trust, but the end is always the same: a request for money or highly personal data.
HOW TO HANDLE THE SITUATION
The most important thing in a situation like this is to stay calm. You can protect yourself by taking some easy-to-implement actions:
The Do List
- Confirm whether or not a person, business, utility or government agency is trying to contact you. Tell the person on the other line to call back, or ask them for a contact number, so that you can check the situation out. Then, use customer service phone numbers or email addresses listed on previous correspondence you’ve had with the organization to see if they are actually trying to reach you.
- Hang up on anyone offering to fix a computer problem. Tech companies do not contact you to offer support unless you have already requested help, and they won’t need personal information.
- Cut off all contact with someone online if you begin to suspect their motives are sinister.
- Report the scam to any person, company or institution that is being impersonated. You can also report these scams to the Federal Trade Commission, or call 877-382-4357.
The Don’t Do List
- Never give any sensitive information like your Social Security number, bank routing number or credit card details to anyone over the phone.
- Do not make a payment or send money to anyone you don’t know personally. This applies to people you have only met online.
- Do not rely on caller ID. Scammers have figured out a way to make it appear as if they are calling from a legitimate government or business number. In this high-tech age, anything is hackable.
HOW TO STAY EDUCATED
Staying on top of the current scams is one of the best ways to protect yourself from con artists. The AARP Fraud Watch Network has a wealth of resources to help you spot and avoid scams.
Sign up for AARP’s free “Watchdog Alerts” here to receive timely email updates about the latest breaking scams where you live. For even more tips, head to the Imposter Scams tip sheet on the Fraud Watch Network here.
Check out AARP’s scam-tracking map to see what types of scams are being perpetrated near you. You can search the map to learn more about scams being reported by people in your community and around Nebraska.
Additionally, AARP Nebraska hosts free Fraud Watch Network programs and events in Omaha and across the state. To find upcoming events, go to aarp.org/ne.