imposter scams

The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) recently released a list of the 10 scams most frequently used by imposters pretending to be from legitimate organizations.

Here are the top 10 imposter scams reported to it last year:

A Taxing Situation 

Internal Revenue Service poseurs are the #1 imposter scam reported to the FTC, and the crime is on the rise. Fake IRS agents may try to scare individuals into thinking they owe back taxes or there’s a problem with their return. The real IRS will not initiate contact by phone or email – instead it’ll start with a postal letter.


Did the Prize Patrol ring you up to say the only thing between you and a pile of winnings is a little processing fee? Before getting ready for the cameras, balloons and poster-sized check, hold the phone. If there is a request to send money to collect a prize, hang up. The imposters are pretending to be from Publishers Clearinghouse.

You Need Professional Help 

In this scam the con artist tries to persuade a person that his or her computer is on the fritz, that there is a serious and urgent technical problem, and that the scammer’s help is desperately needed.


A version goes like this: “I’m calling from Microsoft Technical Support. I’m looking at your computer and there’s dangerous software popping up.” In reality, it’s a scam. Put down the phone or refuse to click the pop-up. The fee demanded is usually very low to avoid raising suspicions. Sometimes the scammers say they’re from billing and that money is owed or account information is needed. In any case, it’s a scam.

Fake FBI

In an old twist on the Nigerian email scam, a phony G-man contacts a possible victim with the alleged “certification” regarding the legitimacy of Prince So-and-So from the Kingdom of Scamnation or some other official-sounding place. The prince supposedly wants help to move a royal sum of money out of his troubled country. Not a chance – it’s another scam.

Kidnapped Computers 

Users click on a link in an email that seems like it’s from a legitimate company. The window that pops up says a destructive program has locked them out of their files. The pop-up might tell a user to click a link so an “FBI agent” can provide assistance. Or the pop-up tells users to buy a prepaid card to pay for a password that will unlock their files. More often than not, even if users pay the ransom, files aren’t released. Regularly back up computer files to minimize any damage thieves could cause.

I’ll Grant You That

Imagine the caller posing as a government official – could be from the Treasury Department, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security or a made-up agency name with the word “federal” in it – with the surprising news that you’ve won a government grant for thousands of dollars. Victims are encouraged to seal the deal by forking over hundreds of dollars in “taxes” or “fees.”

Medicare Masquerade

A sham government representative claims to work for Medicare, or is connected with the Affordable Health Care Act, or is from a made-up agency that sounds a lot like Health and Human Services. The scammer threatens to withhold medical benefits in order to obtain personal information or fees from victims.

Fueling Fears

Another variation involves a phony Homeland Security caller who threatens immigrants with deportation notices. The caller offers, for a charge, to help certify immigration status, hoping scare tactics will catch victims off guard long enough to part with valuable information or money.

Caller ID (Don’t Call Back) 

An emerging imposter scam involves misusing caller ID. Sometimes scammers make it seem that the caller ID number is the victim’s telephone number. Others spoof the caller ID with “Mom” to get people to pick up the call.

Click here to read more about online security.