Scammers often go back to their playbook, using a scheme that has worked in the past, just tweaking it a bit to give it a fresh look.
Sending out phishing emails that appear to be from a government agency, such as the IRS, has been a staple. They're called “imposter scams.” In a new twist, a spam email now making the rounds appears to come from Maureen Ohlhausen, acting chairman of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).
According to Nat Wood, the agency's director of consumer and business education, the message has a slight ring of authenticity. It says the FTC is distributing money from the Western Union settlement and it asks for your bank account information so the funds can be deposited directly into your account.
“The email is a scam to steal your financial information,” Wood writes on the FTC blog. “In 2016, consumers reported more complaints about imposter scams to the FTC than any other fraud.”
Western Union settlement
This imposter scam might be effective because there is a small element of fact here. The FTC is, in fact, involved in a settlement with Western Union, which in the past was scammers' favorite method of taking money from their victims.
While the settlement part happens to be true, Wood points out the Justice Department, not the FTC, is running it, and it hasn't even started yet.
Here are the facts about that case. Early this year the FTC and Western Union agreed to a $586 million settlement of charges the company could have done more to prevent scammers from using its services to fleece victims. Western Union has since enacted numerous safeguards to warn consumers of the danger.
By building their imposter scam around a previous scheme, the fraudsters may be targeting people who were previously scammed using Western Union. If so, they are using another scam technique called “reloading.” Scammers believe that people who have been victims of a scam are more likely to fall for another one – especially if it appears it is rectifying a previous one.
Wood says consumers who receive one of these imposter emails should not click on any links and forward it to the FTC at firstname.lastname@example.org.