One of the ways scammers trick you into handing over your hard-earned cash is by saying they’re with the government. As a veteran, you may engage with government agencies on a more regular basis about benefits and services, so hearing from them out of the blue might not seem surprising. Scammers rely on this trust, and frequently masquerade as official government representatives to get your attention.
What are government impostor scams?
A government impostor scam happens when a scammer pretends to represent a reliable government entity—like the IRS or FBI. Their goal is to gain your trust and convince you to send them money or hand over your personal information like your bank account or social security number.
Common government impostor scams
The most common of these scams reported in BBB Scam TrackerSM are tax collection scams, which represents seven percent of all reported scams by military consumers and veterans last year. Scammers often use fear and intimidation to make you feel like you’ve done something wrong, such as owing back taxes to the IRS or CRA. While most folks report walking away from these scams without falling victim, military consumers reported a median loss of $800 in 2018.
Another common government impostor scam has to do with government grants. Often this kind of scam doesn’t use fear and intimidation, but the promise of a “free” grant or scholarship in gratitude for your service to our nation. The scammer may tell you that all you have to do is pay a one-time processing fee, and then once you pay he/she runs away with your money. Veterans have reported in BBB Scam Tracker that many of these invitations come from a friend through Facebook Messenger, which can be risky if you are not familiar with these kind of social media imposter scams.
Scammers also target veterans by impersonating government agencies to obtain personal information for healthcare and medical benefits, as well as money for the care and location of loved ones. There are many ways scammers pretend to be from the government, but in all cases, the end goal is the same: they want your money and personal information.
How to spot government impostor scams
Here are some tips to stay a step ahead of government impostor scams and know if it’s actually the government or an impostor in disguise:
- If the government needs to reach you, they will send you official documentation in the mail.
If you get a phone call about a free grant opportunity, a direct message on social media about a prize you’ve won, or get a text about back taxes due, it’s very likely a scam.
- Never confirm or give out your personal information to someone that contacts you unsolicited.
Do not give out your banking and credit card information, your birth date, Social Security or Insurance number, or any other personal, sensitive information to someone that contacts you and says they are with a government agency. Your personal information is like money—protect it from scammers looking to steal your identity or your benefits.
- The government will never ask you to wire money or send them a gift card or pre-paid debit card.
While great for birthday or holiday gifts, these are not methods of payments intended for payment to the government. When military consumers reported a loss to a government impostor, the most common method of payment was gift cards. Scammers favor these payment methods because they are harder to trace and are often irreversible.
- Don’t trust a badge number or name without verification.
Con artists often spoof phone numbers, create copies of official-looking documents, and will do everything they can to seem official and earn your trust. When in doubt, disengage and contact the government agency directly to verify. This is especially important when dealing with “look alike” organizations like the “Federal Grants Administration.” It sounds legitimate but is not real. Verify legitimate government grants at grants.gov.
Fight back by reporting government impostor scams
More than 10,000 military consumers and veterans like you have reported their scam at BBB.org/ScamTracker. Search for scams being reported in your community and share your experience to help support research and education efforts.