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Don’t be fooled by imposter scams

RALEIGH, NC by Attorney General Josh Stein (March 21, 2019) — If someone contacts you to tell you that you’re in trouble with law enforcement or the government, or someone you love is danger, it’s understandable to feel panicked or afraid. It’s also understandable to want to act immediately to fix the situation.

But fear and panic can make us vulnerable to scammers who want to steal our money. These scams are called imposter scams. In 2018, consumers reported more than 500,000 imposter scams to the FTC and lost nearly $488 million as a result.

Many imposter scams involve people pretending to be government officials. Often, they pretend to be IRS agents or auditors, calling you to say that you owe taxes and will face legal consequences if you don’t pay. They may also pretend to be from other government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration, threatening that your Social Security number is about to be suspended. Some scammers pretend to be local law enforcement or court officials, claiming that you’ve missed jury duty and are going to be arrested.

Sometimes, scammers will fake a family emergency or kidnapping to scare you into thinking that someone you love has been injured or is in immediate danger. They’ll tell you that you must pay immediately to ensure your family member or loved one’s safety.

These calls can be scary, but the most important thing is to not act right away when you’re agitated. If someone calls you about a family member, hang up and contact other family members or people you trust to verify the claim. And remember – law enforcement and government officials will never call you to threaten you with arrest, and the Social Security Administration and IRS will never threaten to seize your finances over the phone.

Don’t share any personal information with the caller – including your Social Security number, personal data, bank account or tax information, or any other identifying details. This is the information scammers use to access and steal your money or ruin your good name.

Do not respond to any requests for money, and never wire or send money in response to a phone call or email. And if they’re asking for money through prepaid gift cards or debit cards, it’s always a scam. Don’t fall for it. Getting your money back is very rare.

Imposter scammers prey on our desire to stay safe and protect ourselves and our families. But in a panic, we may compromise our information and finances instead.

Always be suspicious of people who contact you out of the blue with a problem that can only be solved by sharing personal information or sending payment. Almost every time, these are scams, and you can avoid them by staying calm and not giving the scammers what they want. And if you think you or someone you know has been the victim of a scam, file a complaint with my office’s Consumer Protection Division at or by phone at 1-877-5-NO-SCAM.