Impostors: Stealing Money, Damaging Lives

Guest blog by AARP

They may contact you by phone. Or online. They may even come right to your front door.

They may say you have committed a crime and offer you a chance to avoid arrest (if you pay them a fee, of course). They may even offer you love. Indeed, their pitches may vary widely. But they all have one thing in common. 

They are not who they say they are. 

They are the impostors.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, impostor scams were the most commonly reported scam type in 2019. And, AARP will be releasing research later this month to get a deeper look at just how many Americans 18+ have been targeted by impostor scams and the financial and emotional impact they cause. 

While impostor scams come in a variety of shapes and sizes, they all work a similar way – they get the target into an emotional state, request or demand money for a reason that sounds plausible and by a method that’s probably not traceable, and the latest target thus becomes the latest victim.

In the cases of government impostor scams, scammers may try to instill fear. They may claim to be from the IRS and you must pay back taxes right away or face arrest. Or they are with the Social Security Administration and your benefits have been compromised and you must act right away (with money or sharing sensitive information) to get the benefits flowing again. Soon, we’ll be hearing about scammers posing as Census Bureau employees, trying to get you to share sensitive information or pay a fee to be counted.

Personal relationship scams typically come in the form of romance scams or the “grandparent” scam. In romance scams, scammers will target potential victims on dating sites, through social media, or on chat boards. They’ll be smart, attractive, and personable. After they’ve earned your trust comes an urgent request for money. Usually, it comes with a promise to repay, but more often than not, your match disappears – with your money – for good. In one recent case, a thief based in South Africa was indicted for defrauding 30 women in the US via the romance scam, stealing more than $1.7 million from his victims, several of which considered suicide after discovering what had happened to them.

In the case of the grandparent scam, criminals try to tap into your love and concern for a close family member, typically a grandchild. They will claim that your grandchild is in distress and needs you to send money to help. They hope that you will act swiftly in your concern and before you are able to look into the claim of distress.

The best way to avoid impostor scams is to know how they work. Look for the red flags you just read about, and if anything seems off, take a pause. Hang up the phone. Talk to a trusted friend. Or call the AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 1-877-908-3360 to talk to a trained volunteer fraud fighter to find out if your suspicions are right. YOU have the power to protect yourself and the people you care about.