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FTC reports government imposter scams continue to proliferate

But fewer consumers are falling for them

Photo (c) xubingruo - Getty Images
Fraudsters try all sorts of tricks to separate people from their money. But when they find something that works, they tend to stick with it.

That’s why you’re increasingly likely to get a phone call from someone who says they work for a government agency -- the IRS, the FBI, or the Social Security Administration -- telling you to do something that usually involves handing over money.

In a new report, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) names the government imposter scam as the most frequent reason consumers complain to the agency. The number of complaints reached record levels earlier this year, totaling about 1.3 million since 2014.

The FTC says it received about 46,600 complaints in May alone from consumers who were contacted by someone who claimed to be calling on behalf of a government agency.

Your Social Security number is just fine

People claiming to be from the Social Security Administration tell their intended victims that their Social Security Number has been “suspended” -- which never happens, by the way. Before a new number can be issued, they are told, they need to confirm their old one. If they do, they’ve just given the scammer their real Social Security number which will be auctioned off on the Dark Web within hours.

Someone may call, claiming to be from the IRS and threatening arrest because the intended victim owes back taxes. Of course, they are told, they can pay over the phone and the matter will be resolved.

“Often, they demand that a consumer pay with a gift card, which is a dead giveaway that the consumer is dealing with a scammer,” the FTC said in a release.

Good news and bad news

The good news is that fewer people are falling for these schemes. By the FTC’s calculations, only about 6 percent of people targeted with these imposter scams lose money.

But there’s also some bad news. When people do fall for it and lose money, they tend to lose big. Losses since 2014 total more than $450 million. The FTC says the median individual reported loss is $960.

Younger people tend to fall for these scams at a higher rate than seniors, but the older you are, the more likely you are to lose a lot of money when you become a victim. According to the FTC, victims over age 80 have lost a median of $2,700 since 2014.

To stay safe, remember this: government agencies don’t call consumers. If a caller says they’re working for the government, it’s safe to assume that they aren’t and that they’re just trying to scam you.

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