On March 3, 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) released the Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book for January – December 2016. The new report lists imposter scams as the number 2 category for consumer fraud complaints. For 2016 debt collection complaints remained number 1 and identity theft fell to number 3. Imposter scams accounted for 406,578 or 13% of the consumer fraud complaints filed with the FTC in 2016. Here are some typical examples of this type of fraud.
Fake IRS Agents – Imposter posing as IRS agents call victims informing them that they have past due taxes. There are several variations of this fraud. In one the caller claims the victim owes past due taxes and the IRS is going to file a lawsuit against them in tax court. In another the fraudster claims the IRS is sending the local police to arrest them for non-payment of their taxes. In a third version that took off in November-December of 2016 the criminals contacted college students claiming they had past due taxes and telling them their student loans would be canceled and they would be expelled if they didn’t make payments immediately.
Fake Dating Profiles – In one version of this type of fraud, the criminals prey on lonely individuals posing as “supermodel” potential boyfriends or girlfriends from outside the US. They then ask for money to help them clear passport issues in their home country so they can come to America and marry the “love of their life.” Often, the photos posted on the internet dating website bear no resemblance to the person with whom the victim is communicating. In another version of this scheme, the fraudster indicates that he or she is starting a business and asks the victim to buy items and have them shipped to the victim’s home with subsequent forwarding to the fraudster. The fraudster explains that the items cannot be shipped to his or her company commercially. Once the victim agrees, the fraudster then uses stolen credit cards (from other victims) to purchase items that are shipped to the victim’s home.
Fake Tech Support – An imposter posing as a tech support person from an employer contacts the victim and explains they need to “remote into” their computer to install updates or to correct an issue that IT discovered. In another version, the criminals claim to be from Microsoft and Microsoft noticed an issue with their windows software that they need to correct. In one call I personally received I was told Bill Gates was monitoring my windows software and noticed the error and ordered them to fix it.
Fake Police Officers – In this fraud the criminals claim to be police officer and inform the victim they have unpaid parking or traffic tickets. They then ask the victim when it would be a convenient time for the police to come by and arrest them for these unpaid fines. When the victims indicate, they don’t want to be arrested they are given the opportunity to pay the fines.
Consumers should be wary anytime they receive a call demanding immediate payments. Usually the criminals want payment by wire funds, prepaid debit cards, gift cards, money transfers and other means that cannot be reversed and are difficult to trace.