An impostor is a person who pretends to be someone else. They may pretend to be someone you know, such as a family member, a friend or a person you feel like you know but have not met in person. They may pretend to be working for the government or from a company you trust, or a company with which you do business on a regular basis, such as a computer software company.
Impostors are dishonest people who want to steal your money or personal information and will try to do this through a phone call, text message or email. The phone calls may appear to be a local number, text messages appear to be from real companies, or emails include entirely believable government logos or a familiar business on them.
Impersonation is a very common tactic used by scammers, according to the BBB Scam Tracker Risk Report. Impostor scams come in all shapes and sizes with the same intent — to trick you out of your money and/or personal information.
Here are some impostor scams and how they work:
Utility company impostors typically reach out via a telephone call or knock on your door claiming to be a representative from the local water, electric, or gas company. In the most common scenario, the fraudster will say a payment is overdue and the utility will be shut off if you don’t pay up immediately.
Phony banking texts/phishing schemes
You receive a text message allegedly from a bank, alerting you of fraudulent activity on your account. You may or may not have an account at that bank. The con artists might even know your account number. They use a variety of messages and techniques, but the desired outcome is the same. They want you to give them information, the key to your money.
There are many ways to tell if a call about tax debt is a fraudulent IRS call. According to the IRS, people with overdue taxes will always receive multiple contacts, including letters and phone calls, from the IRS first. The IRS will also notify taxpayers before sending their accounts to a private collection agency. If you get a call first and had no idea you owed taxes, be cautious and skeptical.
These are also called grandparent scams or family/friend scams. This scheme involves the impersonation of a friend or family member in a fabricated urgent or dire situation. Emergency calls prey on a person’s kind nature and willingness to help friends and family in need. Con artists impersonate their targets’ loved ones, make up an urgent situation, and plead for help and money. Thanks to social media sites, these people can offer plausible stories and incorporate nicknames and real travel plans into the con to convince their targets.
Favor for a friend scam
This is a version of an emergency scam. However, instead of a major crisis, the scammer is asking for a small favor. It can be easy to fall for these cons because the stories are believable, and the money amounts are much lower. For example, in the “cash app scam,” a “friend” needs money for groceries after misplacing their wallet. Just like with an emergency scam, always check directly with your friend before sending any cash.
Tech support scams
A tech support rep calls you at home and offers to fix a computer bug that you haven’t even noticed, or a popup warning appears on your screen instructing you to dial a number for help. In this con, scammers pose as tech support employees of well-known computer companies and hassle victims into paying for their “support.”
How can you avoid impostor scams?
Stay calm. If you receive any of these impostor calls, resist the urge to act immediately, no matter how dramatic the story is or how threatening or intimidating the caller sounds.
Don’t reply directly. Don’t respond to the call, text, or email. Instead, call the company or person directly to verify the message that was sent or the phone call received.
Go to the source or get help. When in doubt, call a friend, loved one or your local Better Business Bureau to ask for a second opinion. Regardless of what is said in the phone conversation, tell someone.