Lately, there’s been a significant uptick in imposter scams, where a scammer pretends to be someone you trust. Their goal? To trick you into giving them your personal information or access to your money. Since some imposter scams may be difficult to detect, we’ve pulled together some facts to help you avoid becoming a victim.
What Is an Imposter Scam?
A scammer—with a goal of identity theft or conning victims out of their money—takes advantage of a target by posing as a family member, friend, business or organization the victim trusts (like a bank, government agency or charity).
How Do Imposter Scams Work?
These criminals can be very persuasive, and some even use artificial intelligence to sound or look like those they’re impersonating. Here are some of the ways they’ll try to trick you.
- They’ll contact you through a phone call, email, text message or social media message.
- They might even spoof the email or phone number of the person or organization they’re impersonating, so it appears they’re really contacting you.
- They may use deepfake technology to create voice recordings or videos of someone you know.
- They might use the real name and contact info of authority figures (like law enforcement) or celebrities.
- They may also use phishing techniques by creating logos and fake websites that look almost like the real thing.
Are There Common Imposter Scams?
Scammers are constantly upping their game and getting more creative. But, they also will use some of their tried and true tricks—because they work. You’re probably already familiar with scammers posing as “tech support.” Here are a few others.
Common Imposter Scams
IRS Imposter Scams
A caller pretends to be an IRS employee and claims you owe money on your taxes. They might threaten you with hefty fines, arrest, driver’s license termination or even deportation. But, they insist you can resolve the problem right now by paying with a prepaid debit card, gift card, cashier’s check or wire transfer. Be suspicious of pressure, threats and unusual payment method requests—especially those that are like cash.
Banking Imposter Scams
A caller pretends to be an employee of your bank or credit union with a goal of getting your personal/account information. They may say your account is frozen, there’s a problem with a payment, they’re just verifying their information or they’ve noticed suspicious activity. Be cautious of anyone you don’t know asking for your sign in or account information.
Social Security/Medicare Imposter Scams
A call or email claims to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) or Medicare. They claim there’s a problem with your account or benefits and may even use the name of an actual employee. Be suspicious of offers to move your money to a “protected” bank account, threats to seize your bank account or suspend your Social Security number, requests for payment for “cost of living” adjustments and demands for secrecy.
Business Imposter Scams
You receive a call from someone claiming to be an employee of a service you use like your electric company, streaming service or tech support company. They claim you owe money for a purchase or need to pay a fee for customer support. One well-known example is when a scammer claims to be a computer technician and uses scare tactics to convince you that your computer is infected with malware or viruses.
Law Enforcement Scams
You’re contacted by someone claiming to be from the police, the court system or the FBI. They claim there’s an outstanding warrant for your arrest due to a failure to appear for court or jury duty or are just vague about the reason for the warrant. They say they can close the case and/or the arrest warrant if you pay the fine over the phone right away.
Charity Imposter Scams
You receive a call, text, email or social media request for a charitable donation. The scammer will play on your sympathy for situations like natural disasters, homelessness, hunger or other good causes. They may also appeal to your politics, asking you to donate to campaigns to defeat the opposition. Don’t respond. You can contact the organizations you’d like to support directly.
Grandparent/Loved One Scams
You get a call that sounds like a distressed grandchild, other loved one or someone calling on their behalf. They claim to need money for an emergency. You should know that some scammers are using advanced deepfake technology to simulate people’s voices to exploit family love and trust. Experts recommend agreeing on a code word in case this type of situation arises.
How Can You Avoid Imposter Scams and Protect Yourself?
Learning a few warning signs can help you avoid becoming a victim. Here are 10 things you need to know.
- Don’t send money to people you don’t know: If you get an unusual request for any reason, you can always verify its legitimacy by contacting the person or organization directly.
- Don’t give access to your computer to people you don’t know: If you get this kind of request, hang up immediately. You can always call your computer brand’s or provider’s (e.g., internet) tech support line if you’re concerned the problem could be real.
- Don’t rely on caller ID: Hang up, look up the contact info yourself, then call back to verify a request is legitimate. Never call phone numbers from your caller ID log or numbers left in voicemails.
- Don’t click on links in unsolicited messages: Always be cautious of links and downloadable files in unexpected texts and emails. It’s likely they’ll contain malware or take you to a phishing website. Navy Federal won’t email you links to reset your password unless you’ve requested it.
- Do look for small mistakes: Scammers often make grammar and spelling mistakes when impersonating others. Double-check email addresses, phone numbers and messages to catch small errors or unnatural wording. Keep in mind that credit and debit cards, insurance cards and billing statements are the best sources for correct phone numbers and email addresses.
- Do watch for strange payment options: If someone asks you to pay them via wire transfer, gift card, Venmo®, Zelle ® or even cryptocurrency, you should know that these payment options are very difficult to track and reverse. They’re almost always a scam.
- Do be wary of 10-digit numbers: Most financial institutions like Navy Federal will text you using a 5- or 6-digit “short code.” We’ll never text you from a 10-digit number.
- Do be cautious about sharing banking or personal info: Legitimate organizations won’t ask for sensitive information online or through text or email. Navy Federal will never ask you to provide your mobile or online banking sign-in information, nor will we ask for your challenge question and answer through an unexpected phone call, email or text.
- Do resist the pressure to act quickly: Fraudsters put pressure on victims to act quickly, so they don’t have time to think logically. Legitimate businesses, government agencies and your financial institution will never pressure you to make a decision or provide information immediately.
- Do verify what you’re being told: Be skeptical of unexpected calls, emails or messages asking for sensitive information. Trust your instincts and take precautions to ensure you’re protected. You can stay one step ahead of scammers by always verifying what you’re being told—even if it means hanging up or ignoring a message until you’re sure.
What Can You Do to Help?
You can help catch these criminals and prevent others from becoming victims by reporting suspected scams. If you believe you’ve been contacted by a scammer, report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) by visiting ftc.gov/complaint or calling 1-877-382-4357. You’ll need the following information:
- The date and time of the call
- The person and/or agency name the scammer used
- What they wanted you to do, pay or share, including dollar amounts
- The phone number that showed up on your caller ID
If you receive any suspicious phone calls, text or social media messages or emails from someone claiming to be Navy Federal, report it to us right away through our official channels.
- Email: Forward the message to firstname.lastname@example.org with the original subject line and include the name of your Internet Service Provider (ISP) in the body.
- Phone or text: Send an email to email@example.com with the time and date of the call or text, the number it originated from and what was requested.
- Social media: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org with the content of the message you received along with the social media account where it originated.
Together, We Can Defeat the Scammers
Navy Federal has a number of protective measures in place, like 24/7 account monitoring and our Zero Liability policy. You can protect your identity and assets by staying informed about scam tactics and having a healthy dose of skepticism. Want to know more about digital security and extra measures you can take to stay protected? Visit our Security Center.
This content is intended to provide general information and shouldn't be considered legal, tax or financial advice. It's always a good idea to consult a tax or financial advisor for specific information on how certain laws apply to your situation and about your individual financial situation.