Government Impostor Scams Prey on Fear during Pandemic, BBB Study Finds
Columbus, OH (August 13, 2020) – One of the most common scams in the U.S. today involves callers pretending to be government officials. Some claim to be tax officials and representatives from the Social Security Administration; others claim to be law enforcement officers and threaten legal consequences. All of them use fear and intimidation to trick victims into turning over personal information or money, often in the form of gift cards.
A new investigative study by Better Business Bureau (BBB) finds that while the number of government scam reports has fluctuated, scams have become more diverse and more sophisticated. In addition, many scammers have taken advantage of the coronavirus pandemic by posing as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials, Internal Revenue Service (IRS) representatives who can expedite economic impact payments, or contact tracers employed with local government agencies.
The investigative study — Government Impostor Scams: Reports Decrease, Scammers Pivot for New Opportunities, BBB Study Reveals — highlights the risk of this common but costly fraud. Read the full study at bbb.org/fakegov.
Scammers pay close attention to current events in order to further their schemes, and there have been numerous efforts to exploit the pandemic.
- The Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration reports that callers have impersonated the IRS, claiming to expedite benefits under the CARES Act.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warns of scam calls displaying the CDC’s phone number in caller ID. Some of these calls request donations. Emails or text messages may contain malicious programs that are downloaded if the recipient clicks on a link. The FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint CenterIC3 has issued a similar warning about fake CDC emails.
- BBB warns of texts, emails, or social media notices claiming to be from contact tracers, informing the recipient that they may have come in contact with someone who has tested positive to the virus. These may contain malicious attachments or seek personal information for use in other scams. The contact tracing scam has been noted as a particular problem in the UK.
The BBB Study highlights Red Flags to identify any type of government imposter scam:
- The IRS generally first contacts people by mail — not by phone — about unpaid taxes.
- Don’t pay by gift card. The IRS and other government agencies will not insist on payment using an iTunes card, gift card, prepaid debit card, money order, bitcoin or by sending cash.
- The IRS will never request personal or financial information by email, text, or any social media. Don’t click on links in emails or text messages.
- Social Security numbers are never “suspended.”
- Caller ID cannot be trusted to confirm that the source of the call is a government agency. Look up the phone number for the real agency and call to see if they are really trying to contact you — and why.
- The Social Security Administration will never threaten to arrest you because of an identity theft problem.
- Never provide your bank account or other personal information to anyone who calls you.