Is the “Government” or a “Company” 𝘳𝘦𝘢𝘭𝘭𝘺 contacting you?

Lynn Corthell |

Phone scams are a common and growing problem that affect millions of people every year. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), Americans lost more than $9 billion to fraud in 2021. One of the most common types of phone scams is when scammers pretend to be an official government agency or a well-known company and try to trick you into giving them your personal or financial information, or paying them money.

Some examples of these phone scams are:

  • The IRS scam: The scammer claims to be from the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and says that you owe taxes or have a problem with your tax return. They threaten to arrest you, sue you, or freeze your bank account if you don’t pay them immediately by wire transfer, prepaid card, or gift card.

  • The Social Security scam: The scammer claims to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) and says that your Social Security number has been suspended, compromised, or involved in a crime. They ask you to verify your identity by providing your Social Security number, bank account number, or other personal information. They may also ask you to pay a fee or a fine to reactivate your number or clear your name.

  • The tech support scam: The scammer claims to be from a well-known tech company, such as Microsoft, Apple, or Google, and says that your computer, phone, or account has a problem It could be a virus, a security breach, or an expired license. They ask you to give them remote access to your device, or to pay them for a service or a software update. They may also ask you to provide your password, credit card number, or other sensitive information.

These phone scams can be very convincing and persuasive, as scammers use various techniques to manipulate and deceive you, such as:

  • Spoofing: Scammers can fake the caller ID or the email address to make it look like they are calling or emailing from a legitimate number or domain. They may also use the name or logo of the agency or company they are impersonating.

  • Urgency: Scammers create a sense of urgency or fear by telling you that you have a limited time to act, or that you will face serious consequences if you don’t comply. They pressure you to make a quick decision without giving you time to think or verify the information.

  • Authority: Scammers use official-sounding language and titles, and provide fake badge numbers, case numbers, or reference numbers to make themselves sound credible and trustworthy. They may also use robocalls or prerecorded messages to sound more professional.

However, there are some signs and clues that can help you spot and avoid these phone scams, such as:

  • Asking for personal or financial information: Legitimate government agencies and companies will never call you and ask for your Social Security number, bank account number, credit card number, password, or any other sensitive information over the phone, unless you initiated the call.

  • Demanding payment by unconventional methods: Legitimate government agencies and companies will never ask you to pay them by wire transfer, prepaid card, gift card, cryptocurrency, or any other method that is hard to trace or reverse. They will also never ask you to pay a fee or a fine before providing a service or resolving a problem.

  • Threatening or promising: Legitimate government agencies and companies will never threaten you with arrest, lawsuit, or loss of benefits, or promise you a reward, a refund, or a free offer, to get you to give them your information or money. They will also never ask you to keep the conversation or the transaction a secret.

If you receive a call or an email from someone who claims to be from a government agency or a company, and you suspect that it is a scam, you should:

  • Hang up the phone or delete the email: Do not engage with the caller or the sender, as this may encourage them to contact you again or target you for other scams. Do not press any buttons, follow any links, or open any attachments, as this may expose you to malware or phishing.

  • Verify the identity of the caller or the sender: If you are not sure if the call or the email is legitimate, you can contact the agency or the company directly using the official number or website that you can find online or on your statements or bills. Do not use the number or the website that the caller or the sender provided, as they may be fake.

  • Report the scam: You can report the scam to the FTC, the agency or the company that the scammer pretended to be from, or the local authorities. You can also warn your friends and family about the scam, and share your experience on social media or online forums.

By being aware and vigilant, you can protect yourself and your loved ones from phone scams that impersonate government agencies or companies. Remember, if it sounds too good to be true, or too bad to be true, it probably is. Do not let anyone take advantage of you over the phone.


Lynn Corthell, Chief Compliance Officer


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Federal Trade Commission