Avoid Imposter Scams

Imposter scams are increasing and were the most reported fraud in 2021, costing victims roughly $2.6 billion, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Imposter scams generally start with an unsolicited phone call, email, text or social media message from someone impersonating people or organizations that you would ordinarily trust. Imposters may ask you to transfer money from your bank, put money on a gift card, or send cryptocurrency, because they know these types of payments can be hard to reverse. Imposter scams come in many varieties including:

  • Romance - a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim's affection and trust then uses the illusion of a romantic relationship to manipulate and steal from the victim.
  • Government Agency - criminal falsely claiming to be associated with the government i.e. IRS, Medicare, FBI. They say that if you don't pay or you refuse to give them your personal information, something bad will happen or you will miss out on a government benefit.
  • Relative/Friend in Distress - the scammer poses as a family member or friend in need of urgent financial assistance.
  • Charities - scammers create fake charities to collect money or personal information from unsuspecting victims.
  • Trusted Companies - an imposter claiming to be from your financial institution or utility company.
  • Technical Support - involves a criminal claiming to provide customer, security, or technical support or service to defraud victims.

Don't Become a Victim:

Warning signs and examples of impersonator scams include: 

  • Unsolicited calls or emails claiming you owe money to a business, utility company, or the government, and risk dire consequences such as arrest or an account being frozen if you don't pay immediately.
  • A caller says you've won a prize or qualify for a grant, but you must pay an upfront fee to collect.
  • A caller claims to be from a tech company or internet service provider that has detected a virus or malware on your computer, or they may claim you have a subscription that is set to renew.
  • You receive a call or text message from someone who claims to be a relative or close friend who states they need money for an emergency.

Protect Yourself:

  • Confirm independently whether a business, utility or government agency is indeed trying to reach you. Use the customer service numbers or email addresses listed on invoices, account statements and legitimate corporate and government websites.
  • Hang up on unsolicited callers offering to fix computer problems. Companies like Apple and Microsoft will not contact you for tech support unless you have requested help, and they will not ask for personal information.
  • Report imposter scams to the company or institution being impersonated.
  • Don't give sensitive information such as credit card details or your Social Security number over the phone unless you're sure of whom you are dealing with.
  • Don't send money to someone you don't know, someone you think you may know but are not sure, or someone you've only met online.
  • Don't rely on caller ID to determine if a call is legitimate. Scammers use tools to make it appear they are calling from a genuine government or business number.

Report imposter scams to the FTC online or to the FBI's internet crime complaint center www.ic3.gov. Educate yourself by visiting other resources on our SchwabSafe Learning Center, where you can read additional guidance on avoiding scams and other threats such as phishing attacks, and identity theft.