BBB: Imposter scams: Who’s really contacting you?

It’s easy to pretend to be someone that you’re not on the Internet or over the phone, and it can be difficult to tell who’s real and who’s faking it. Scammers depend on this confusion to trick unwitting consumers in to giving away their money or personal information.

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently sent out an alert saying scam artists were calling people claiming to be the FTC and asking for remote access to their computers. The con revolved around the FTC’s Advanced Tech Support refund program, which is mailing checks to those who were victims of a previous scam. The agency says it will never call someone and ask for remote access to their computer.

This scheme is known as an imposter scam. According to the 2017 Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report, “impersonation” is a very common tactic used by scammers. It’s where the scammer pretends to be a legitimate business that is well known and trusted by the consumer.

Here are some of the most common legitimate organizations that were used for impersonation in 2017, according to BBB’s Risk Report:

  • Internal Revenue Service: The IRS was the No. 1 most impersonated organization of 2017. Although the number of tax collection scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker decreased more than 60 percent from 2016 to 2017, they were still the third most reported scam in 2017 with more than 3,000 reports.
  • U.S. Government: The U.S. Government in general was the No. 2 most impersonated organization. Scammers often claim you’re eligible for a free government grant and just need to pay upfront taxes to claim it. They may also pretend to be connected to Medicare and ask for personal information.
  • Better Business Bureau: That’s right, BBB was the No. 3 most impersonated organization. Many of these scams target small businesses. Scammers call to collect unpaid “dues” or email dangerous links or attachments that they claim are related to “complaints”.
  • Computer companies: Tech support scammers will buy sponsored links on search engine results pages, cold call and email consumers, and cause alerts to pop-up on computer screens. The end-game is the same: the scammer claims that they can help you with a serious computer problem for a price. You’ll be asked to pay money and provide remote access to your computer.

As you can see, many of these scams revolve around you paying an upfront fee. BBB offers these tips if you are ever contacted by an imposter.

  • Don’t wire money. If a caller specifically asks you to pay by prepaid debit card or wire transfer, this is a huge warning sign.
  • Resist pressure to pay immediately. Scammers will press for immediate payment and may try to intimidate you into giving them your personal and banking information.
  • Never give control of your computer to a third party unless you know it is the representative of a computer support team you contacted.
  • Call customer service. If you feel pressured for immediate action by a caller, hang up the phone and call customer service. This will ensure you are speaking to a real representative.

For the full list of the top impersonated companies, go to bbb.org/riskreport and be sure to report all scams to BBB Scam Tracker at bbb.org/scamtracker.

Heather Massey is the Senior Regional Director for the Permian Basin office of Better Business Bureau serving the Heart of Texas. Heather is available for media interviews and speaking engagements. You can reach her by phone: (432) 741-2592 or email: hmassey@permianbasin.bbb.org.