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: