How To Protect Yourself From Imposter Scams

Is imposter a crime? Yes, it is. In imposter scams, individuals are coerced into making payments for various reasons, such as taxes, winnings, or emergency loans, under false pretenses, often masquerading as government officials, lottery representatives, or distressed family members. These schemes aim to deceive victims and extract money from them.

Perpetrators typically initiate contact via phone or email, employing tactics like claiming unpaid taxes owed to the IRS, demanding processing fees for prize claims, or requesting payments for legal assistance in resolving fabricated crises.

Instances of fraudulent "robo-calls," where scammers urgently request callbacks for alleged tax debts, have surged, as noted by the IRS. According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), consumer losses due to fraud reached a record $10 billion in 2023, with imposter scams being the most common type of deception reported.

In 2023, the FTC received approximately 854,000 complaints related to imposter scams, constituting 33% of all consumer fraud reports submitted to the agency. With an average victim loss of $800, these scams caused a total loss of $2.7 billion.

FTC data analysis shows that payments and bank transfers were the next biggest fraud losses, with cryptocurrency transactions coming in first. In 2023, victims lost $1.9 billion and $1.4 billion via cryptocurrency and bank channels, respectively.

Common Types of Imposter Scams

In the scenario of an imposter scam, individuals with malicious intent reach out to potential victims, assuming the identity of someone trustworthy, such as a friend, family member, law enforcement officer, or representative of a government agency. Subsequently, they manipulate the victim into providing money under false pretenses, often by claiming the avoidance of penalties or the promise of benefits.

  • Charity Deception

Although there are numerous genuine and commendable charitable organizations, there are also deceitful individuals aiming to exploit the generosity of others. To obtain donations, these con artists pose as agents of reputable nonprofit organizations or create false ones, which they subsequently embezzle for their own benefit. Prior to making donations, it's crucial to verify the legitimacy of the charitable organization. 

  • Deceptive Romance

Imposters assume false identities on dating websites, social media platforms, or even in face-to-face encounters to establish connections with potential victims. They use a variety of strategies, like claiming common interests, social circles, or values in common, to create emotional connections. 

Once a connection is established, they fabricate urgent needs for money, citing emergencies, family crises, business opportunities, theft, stolen identities, or travel expenses. Caution should be exercised before transferring funds or providing gifts to new acquaintances or romantic interests. Seeking advice from financial advisors, attorneys, or trusted individuals is advisable prior to engaging in financial transactions.

  • Grandparent Fraud

Imposters impersonate law enforcement officials and contact grandparents, alleging that their grandchild is in legal trouble and requires immediate financial assistance for bail. Alternatively, they may directly contact the grandparent, posing as the grandchild, and fabricate a situation necessitating urgent monetary aid. To prevent falling victim to such scams, it is advisable to independently verify the whereabouts of the grandchild through alternate means and refrain from making immediate decisions.

  • IRS Impersonation

Scammers pose as representatives of the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) and reach out to potential victims via phone or email, falsely claiming outstanding tax liabilities and threatening arrest unless immediate payment is made. Victims are coerced into wiring money or providing prepaid debit card details to settle the purported debts and avoid legal consequences. 

It's essential to recognize that the IRS initiates contact through mail and never demands payment via wire transfers or prepaid debit cards. Verification of the contact details provided in suspicious communications is recommended before taking any action.

  • Jury Duty Fraud

Imposters, posing as law enforcement officials, contact individuals via phone or email, alleging failure to fulfill jury duty obligations and demanding immediate payment of fines to avoid arrest. Authentic court officials do not solicit wire transfers or confidential information via phone or email. Hence, individuals should exercise caution and verify the legitimacy of such claims through official channels.

  • Arrest Warrant Deception

Similar to the jury duty scam, fraudsters impersonate law enforcement officers and coerce individuals into immediate payment under the pretense of impending arrest warrants or ongoing investigations. It is important to note that legitimate law enforcement or court representatives do not request wire transfers or confidential information via phone or email.

  • Sweepstakes and Lottery Fraud

Imposters, falsely claiming affiliation with government offices or private law firms, contact individuals to inform them of winnings in sweepstakes or lotteries, requiring payment of customs duties or taxes to release the prizes. Legitimate sweepstakes do not demand upfront payments, and participation in foreign lotteries is illegal under federal law. Individuals should be cautious of such solicitations and verify the authenticity of claims before providing any personal or financial information.

  • Utility Impersonation

Fraudsters posing as utility company representatives threaten to disconnect services unless immediate payments are made. In such instances, individuals should hang up and contact their utility provider using the official phone number provided on their bills to confirm the status of their accounts. Suspicious calls should be reported to the respective utility provider.

  • Company Identity Theft

In a manner akin to charity scams, imposters exploit the credibility of reputable businesses by sending deceptive communications masquerading as legitimate correspondences from these entities. Prior to making any payments, it is essential to verify the authenticity of such communications, preferably by contacting the company directly through the contact details provided on official billing statements.

  • Phishing Frauds

"Phishing" refers to online scams where fraudsters mimic the appearance and format of legitimate company websites or emails to deceive individuals into divulging sensitive personal information like usernames, passwords, or financial details. Individuals should exercise caution when encountering emails requesting personal information and refrain from clicking on any suspicious links. They should, instead, get in touch with the supposed sender using confirmed contact details to independently confirm the veracity of such communications.

How To Prevent Imposter Scams

Exercise caution with Caller ID information, as scammers can manipulate it to display misleading details, such as "IRS," "police," or other trusted organizations. Simply seeing such identifiers on your Caller ID does not guarantee the authenticity of the caller.

When confronted with urgent requests for money over the phone, refrain from engaging with the caller. It's advisable to terminate the call immediately without delving into the reasons behind their request. Pressure to make snap decisions is a skill that scammers possess.

Be vigilant regarding emails as well, as imposter scams can also occur through electronic communication. If you receive an email demanding immediate payment, it's likely a scam. Delete the email without responding, and avoid clicking on any links or attachments that may contain harmful malware.

Conduct independent research if you're uncertain about the legitimacy of a caller or email. Look up the contact information for the supposed individual or organization in a reliable source, such as a phonebook or the official website of the agency or company. Verify the accuracy of the information provided by the caller through your own inquiries.

Remember that legitimate prize winnings do not require payment for taxes, delivery fees, or insurance. Refrain from sending wire transfers, cash-reload cards, or gift cards in response to urgent requests for payment, as these are commonly employed by scammers.


People need to be alert and proactive since imposter scams are dynamic and ever-changing. Protection requires keeping up with scam trends, putting strong security measures in place, and obtaining confirmation through official channels of communication. 

In order to identify imposter fraud and encourage internet safety, proactive education is essential. A secure digital environment can be achieved through widespread dedication to online security, education, and strong practices—despite the risks that come with technological advancement. 

When it comes to online security, being proactive is crucial, as always.

FAQs (Frequently Asked Questions)

Imposter scams involve deceiving individuals into making payments under false pretenses, often impersonating trusted entities like government officials or family members. Yes, it's a crime, as perpetrators exploit trust to extract money unlawfully.

Scammers often use phone calls or emails, employing tactics like claiming unpaid taxes or demanding fees for prize claims. They may pose as Internal Revenue Service (IRS) representatives, lottery agents, or distressed relatives to deceive victims.

Common imposter scams include charity deception, deceptive romance, grandparent fraud, IRS impersonation, jury duty fraud, and sweepstakes fraud. Scammers exploit various scenarios to manipulate victims into providing money.

To prevent imposter scams, individuals should exercise caution with Caller ID information, refrain from engaging with urgent requests for money, be vigilant regarding emails, conduct independent research on suspicious contacts, and never send payments in response to urgent demands.

Proactive education is crucial to identifying imposter fraud and promoting online safety. By staying informed about scam trends and implementing strong security measures, individuals can create a more secure digital environment and mitigate the risks associated with technological advancements.

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