Government Impostor Scams Target Seniors

Callers impersonating the IRS, Social Security Administration, and Medicare are targeting US seniors with money scams.

Many Americans receive a great deal of phone calls from “Unknown” or unlisted numbers. Occasionally, scammers spoof known phone numbers or pretend to be from recognizable businesses. Yet, the most common type of fraudulent call, according to the FTC,* is the “government impostor” scam. The caller will pretend to be from a government agency. Often, the call is robodialed and leaves a voicemail, claiming that the target has unpaid IRS debt or a problem with their Medicare card.

Reported losses to these scams add up to more than $450 million since 2014. People over 80 report a median loss of $2,700 per incident.

FTC statistics on Government Impostors

What can you do to protect yourself? Here are a few simple tips to avoid these scams:

Only call official, listed numbers for government agencies – Do not return a call to a phone number you cannot verify. Go to the website for the government agency that claims they need to speak with you and dial the main phone number listed on their site.

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Be suspicious of any call that asks for personal information or money – Legal representatives of the government will already have your information, and they won’t ask you for personal data like your Social Security number or bank account information.

Never pay with a gift card or wire transfer – No one working for the government will ever ask for payment via a non-traditional method. Only use traceable payment methods, like a check or credit card, if you are making a payment.

If you think you’ve been contacted by a scammer, reach out to the FTC and report it at FTC.gov/complaint

*Fletcher, Emma (July, 2019). Government imposter scams top the list of reported frauds. Federal Trade Commission. Retrieved October, 2019