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Five Ways to Spot an Imposter Scam

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Some people are naturally good at pretending to be something they are not. With access to more advanced technology, the criminally minded are now able to carry out extremely convincing impersonations, taking social engineering to a new level.

Posing as bankers, government officials, romantic suitors and more, the bad guys are deploying all kinds of highly effective imposter scams.

What is an imposter scam?

Simply put, an imposter scam is when a fraudster contacts you pretending to be someone they are not in order to steal money or gather valuable personal information. They might call you on the phone or send a message by text or email. For payments, they’ll often ask you to send a gift card or wire money.

Sometimes they pretend to be someone you know or trust. Other times they’ll present themselves as a company that you do business with or an authority figure at a familiar organization, like the Social Security Administration or the American Red Cross. For every persona they might adopt, the fraudsters have different scams they’ll run.

  • The family member who claims to be traveling and lost their wallet or needs bail money
  • A tech support person who is following up on a problem with your computer
  • An IRS agent stating that you must make a payment or face serious consequences
  • An online friend or romantic interest who you’ve never met but who suddenly needs to borrow money

The problem is they can be very convincing. The numbers show how effective imposter scams can be. The Federal Trade Commission reports that in 2021, imposter scams were the second most common type of fraud reported, affecting one in five people and accounting for more than $2.3 billion in losses.

Recognizing the fraudster from the real professional can be tricky to decipher – but most often there are a few tells that can help you spot the liar.

5 tips to recognize imposter scams

If you are suspicious of someone who has contacted you, don’t ignore your instincts. These questions can help you spot-check the legitimacy of any call, text or email that gives you a bad feeling.

1. Was it unsolicited?

Scammers don’t wait around for potential victims; they initiate contact. If you’re suspicious of someone who contacts you unexpectedly, stop communicating with them, even if the number appears to be from a trusted source. Call them back using contact information that you’ve independently verified as legitimate.

2. Are they rushing you?

Bad guys know that the longer it takes to convince someone of a story, the less likely they’ll be successful. They will use all kinds of tactics to get you to comply quickly, from a false emergency to warnings of public embarrassment or the risk of arrest.

3. Do you feel scared?

Imposter scams work well when the victim is rushed, but they can work even better when the victim is scared. If the supposed official is stoking fear or threatening you or someone you love, chances are they are not who they say they are.

4. Are there similar stories online?

Cybercrooks are only interested in effective scams, so they repeat what works. See if you can find a similar story to the one you’re hearing from the imposter by performing a quick Google search.

5. Are they asking for personal information?

Any call, text, email or other communication that asks you to transmit account or card numbers, Social Security numbers, one-time passcodes or PINs should be met with high levels of caution. Legitimate organizations will rarely contact you directly for this information. Meanwhile, scammers have great explanations for why they need this information.

Imposter scammers are successful at fooling people of all ages, so sharing these tips can help those you care about. Let your kids know about them for the next time something suspicious slides into their DMs and give a copy to your grandparents to keep by their telephone.

Beyond spot-checking unusual interactions in the digital era, you might consider the additional protection that an identity protection service like IdentityForce offers. That way, if you or a family member falls victim to an imposter scam, you’ll be able to take the steps needed to reduce the risk of future damage.