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Get a call from the Social Security Administration? It’s the latest government imposter scam

  July 13, 2019 | By Herb Weisbaum, NBC

Con artists tell lies — it’s how they make a living.

Calling people and pretending to be with a government agency — IRS, Social Security, ICE, DEA, or the local sheriff’s department — is a ruse that’s been lucrative for years. But these imposter scams have now hit an all-time high.

Here are a few of the lies these government imposters are telling. In each case, the goal is to steal your money and/or personal information:

  • We’re calling from the Social Security Administration because your account has been frozen or compromised.
  • This is the IRS calling and you owe us back taxes and are about to be sued or immediately arrested.
  • I’m with the FBI or your local police department and an arrest warrant has been issued because you failed to appear in court for jury duty.

“These people sound very convincing,” said Monica Vaca at the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “Their job is to make you feel fear, to make you feel panicked.”

Complaints about government imposter scams are skyrocketing, reaching a record high in May, according to a new FTC report:

  • Since 2014, consumers have complained about imposter scams far more than any other type of fraud. Reported losses in the last five years total more than $450 million dollars.
  • So far this year, the FTC has received more than 200,000 complaints from people who were contacted by someone falsely claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or another government entity.
  • In May alone, a record 46,600 complaints were filed.

The vast majority of imposter scams take place over the phone. Sometimes, they start with robocall, but not always. These phone bandits know how to high-pressure and bully people, sometimes threatening them with arrest.

“People are scared and they’re not thinking clearly, so they do what the crooks want in order to relieve the pressure,” said Steve Baker, international investigations specialist with the Better Business Bureau.

Julianne Stafford, who almost got taken by a government imposter, knows how terrifying these calls can be.

“You’re so scared in that moment,” said Stafford, a Massachusetts teacher. “They’re saying you’re going to go to federal prison. You’re like, ‘Oh my God no. How do I stop this from happening? I will tell you everything.’ ”

Most of these calls come from telephone boiler rooms in India, Baker told NBC News BETTER. By spoofing caller ID, they can make the phone display the number of the government agency they’re pretending to be calling from. This hi-tech deception makes their lie seem legit.

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