Impostor Scams: What They Are And How To Avoid Them

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — It’s called an impostor scam, when someone impersonates trustworthy people like police officers or government officials.

The con-artists behind the scams can be very convincing, and you need to be on the lookout.

Richard Tanner says the call took him by surprise.

“I literally was about to hang up when they said, ‘Are you at this address?’” Tanner recalled.

The man on the other end of the line said he was Sgt. Wade Marshal with the Sheriff’s Department, and that Tanner owed fines of $1600 for failing to appear for jury duty.

“We’re calling as a courtesy. You have several outstanding citations,” the call said.

Tanner told him he had served jury duty, but the “sergeant” gave him case and citation numbers, with what sounded like police scanners in the background.

He instructed Tanner to head immediately to the station sheriff’s department to pay up, or face a warrant for his arrest.

The only form of payment accepted: cash or a prepaid card called “green dot.”

The call went on for nearly 40 minutes on his landline before Tanner used his cell phone to call the local sheriff’s department.

“The first thing I said was, ‘is there a Sergeant Wade Marshall?’ And I barely got the words out when the sheriff’s department said, ‘no, it’s a scam. Hang up.’” Tanner said.

“Law enforcement would never make such a request,” says John Bolen, Assistant Director at the U.S. Marshal’s Service. He says it’s a growing problem nationwide.

The agency recently warned consumers about these slick scammers

“These scammers are extremely well-versed in the judicial process. They have frequently used real judge’s names, real names of U.S. Marshal Service employees,” Bolen said.

And that’s just one type of what experts call “impostor scams,” the most common form of fraud duping US consumers.

The Federal Trade Commission says, in 2016, more than 400,000 people complained about impersonation fraud.

The FTC points out a couple of red flags here:

Number one, government agencies rarely ever call demanding a payment. They still use regular mail and will send you a letter.

And they don’t take prepaid cards or gift cards.

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