Imposter Scams Overtake Identity Theft in FTC Consumer Complaints

For the first time ever, imposter scam complaints to the Federal Trade Commission have topped complaints of identity theft, being second only to debt collection services complaints among consumers in the general public, and lead the list of FTC consumer complaints among military personnel in 2016.

Percentage wise, both imposter scams and identity theft are listed on the FTC’s annual consumer complaint report at 13 percent; imposter scam complains numbered 406,578 and identity theft complaints numbered 399,225. Both categories of consumer complaints still fall far behind debt collection practices in consumer complaints among non-military consumers, which remains in the top spot at 28 percent, representing 859,090 complaints.

What Is an Imposter Scam?

Imposter scams are those consumer interactions in which the other party pretends to be someone trustworthy, from a governmental agency such as the IRS or a Department of Health and Human Services staff member, a well-known business, or even a family member such as a grandchild, for the purpose of convincing a consumer to send money. The scammer initiates the contact, most often by phone, but also through email. Consumers in their 60s reported becoming victims of imposter scam the most often of all age groups, with consumers in their 50s ranking second.

While the imposter scams can, and have, taken many forms, one of the red flags is that the fraudster will try to rush the consumer into making a decision to send money. More than half of the consumers defrauded by these scams in 2016 sent money by wire transfer to the scammer.

How to Spot – and Avoid – Imposter Scams

The FTC urges consumers to be wary of anyone who contacts them seeking wire transfers as the payment source. No one representing the government will legitimately ask for payment by a wire transfer and it is illegal for telemarketers to do so.

If you receive a call from someone who is purportedly is calling from a government agency, take the time to call that agency at a verified phone number – not the phone number that shows on the caller ID for that call or a phone number given to you during the phone call.

Remember that governmental agencies will contact you by standard mail for any business they need to conduct with you. Don’t let anyone call you rush you into any decision or action at that time. Request the caller send you their information through standard mail, so you’ll have it in writing. If the caller asks for your address to mail something to you, hang up. If it were a legitimate agency, your address would already be in its database along with your phone number.

The FTC recommends that you hang up on all robocalls. A robocall is one in which a recorded message plays when you answer the phone. Don’t press 1, don’t ask to speak to a person, don’t answer any questions – simply hang up the phone. Report the call to the FTC at 1-888-382-1222 or at their website.

Register your land line and cell phone numbers with the National Do Not Call Registry. Although this isn’t guaranteed to stop all unsolicited calls, it will greatly decrease their number and the likelihood is that any further unsolicited calls will be from scammers. Hang up and report them to the National Do Not Call Registry website.

Never pay by cash or wire transfer. A credit card payment offers you the ability to dispute fraudulent charges, something scammers know and try to avoid by rushing you to use overnight mail to send cash, wire money, or even send a messenger to your home to pick up your payment.


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