Govt Impostor Scams Prey on Fear During Pandemic


CROMWELL, Conn.— It starts with a “government” phone call...
Suppose you get an unexpected telephone call from a government agency telling you that a police officer will be there shortly to arrest you. Most people would be shocked and afraid. The caller seems legitimate, providing badge numbers and perhaps even personal information about you. The caller ID displays the name of a real government agency. Here’s the catch: the caller claims jail time can be avoided if you pay a fine by immediately going to a store, purchasing gift cards, and reporting the code numbers to them.
44% of Americans have encountered a government impostor scam.
The investigative study -- G overnment 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 .
Over the last several years, the public has been under assault by scammers impersonating a multitude of government agencies. In many cases, scammers insist they are law enforcement officers and threaten to arrest people immediately if they do not pay money, usually with gift cards. They may tell consumers their Social Security number has been associated with a crime, or may threaten to deport recent immigrants or arrest people for missing jury duty. 
Many scammers have also taken advantage of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic by posing as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) officials, Internal Revenue Service representatives who can expedite economic impact payments, or contact tracers employed with local government agencies.
A recent AARP survey found that 44% of people in the U.S. have been contacted by one of these impersonators. Law enforcement officials have received hundreds of thousands of complaints. Complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) report $450 million in losses since 2015.
Impostor calls from India must first go through a “gateway carrier” in the U.S. These carriers often provide both “spoofed” phone numbers that appear on caller ID and return phone call numbers for voicemails that appear to go to locations in the U.S. or Canada. The Department of Justice recently sued two of these carriers while the FTC and Federal Communication Commission issued warning letters to others. As a result, robocalls and individual calls coming from India have declined drastically over the last several months.
Other law enforcement efforts in the U.S. have led to the arrest of dozens of Indian nationals for laundering money related to these scams. However, the study notes that cases are rarely prosecuted in India.
The report recommends:
  • Efforts to prevent fraud calls to the U.S. and Canada have shown promising results, and the telecom industry should continue efforts to stop illegal calls and to end caller ID spoofing. Legislation may be needed to address the problem of gateway carriers.
  • The government of India should do more to prosecute and extradite those operating frauds from that country.
  • Law enforcement should continue to take action against scammers who are physically present in the U.S. and Canada.
  • Efforts by many retailers and banks to question people buying gift cards have had limited success in stopping the purchase of gift cards to pay scammers. The gift card industry and retailers should explore additional ways to stem fraudulent use of their products.
How to report government impostor scams:
  • IRS: The Internal Revenue Service advises people to fill out the “IRS Impersonation Scam” form on the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Impersonation’s website, tigta.gov, or call TIGTA at 1-800-366-4484.
  • Social Security: The Office of the Inspector General, Social Security Administration (SSA IG) has its own online form to take complaints about frauds impersonating the SSA.
  • Federal Trade Commission: 877-FTC Help or ftc.gov.
  • Contact your cellphone carrier, which may offer free services such as scam call identification and blocking, ID monitoring, a second phone number to give out to businesses so you can use your main number for close friends or a new number if you get too many spam calls.
To read the full report and find more information and statistics please visit bbb.org/fakegov






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