Scammers impersonate government agencies to steal your money

Almost everyone has experienced an unexpected text, email, phone call or even a pop-up ad from someone pretending to be representing a government agency.

BBB Scam Tracker reports show Government Agency Impostor scams are not only hitting individuals but also the second-most reported scams by businesses in 2021 and are even increasing this year.

The influx of these types of calls seems relentless because scammers are not impacted in any way by the "Do not call" regulations designed for legitimate phone solicitations. Their goal is to trick victims into thinking they have issues with their Social Security, Unemployment, Medicare, Internal Revenue Service, the Attorney General's office and others. Even legitimate businesses like Amazon, UPS, FedEx and banks also deal with similar fake announcements to would-be victims.

The good news is case reports of money loss incidents have slowed since peaking in early 2021. With increased public awareness, new research by Better Business Bureau reflects that more and more people recognize these calls are scams.

The bad news is that people are now suffering almost double the money lost when they fall victim, and fraudsters are still striking thousands of people.

Also, for grant seekers, the BBB Scam Tracker data showed victims of government grant scams lost more money in 2021. The median loss rose from $800 to $1,000, making it one of the most expensive and eighth riskiest scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021.

A tipoff to the rip-off is knowing these fraudsters typically rely on three major tools to trick people. An urgency to take immediate action, fear or the false promise of easy-to-obtain free or inexpensive money from grants or government programs. Another giveaway that's a scam is the demand for alternative forms of payment like gift cards, money wires or even cryptocurrency.

No one should feel ashamed if they are conned because these scammers become more sophisticated every year. While most of these ploys originate overseas, the calls sound more realistic, and follow-up emails, once riddled with spelling and grammar errors, are becoming more professional and convincing.

To further confuse victims, government impostor schemes use "spoofing" to make Caller ID look like the call is coming from the actual agency.

Studies show every generation is falling prey to government impostors. While no age group is immune, the amount of money loss increases with age.

From young students looking for grants and loan money for school to older adults being tricked into thinking something is wrong with their Social Security check or their accounts, all age groups are being targeted.

More than two-thirds of the government agency impostor scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2021 mentioned Social Security. SSA impersonation scams are also the most-reported scam so far in 2022.

Social Security Administration (SSA) impersonators warn the targeted individual that their identity has been stolen and ask them to verify their social security number and other personal information.

In government grant frauds, scammers often contact the consumer using an acquaintance's hacked social media account. The consumer is told about a lucrative grant program that only costs a small fee to receive, and scammers continue to ask for more fees. Victims can also be lured into a fake website designed to steal money and information.

Another alarming trend is scammers tying in law enforcement agencies such as the FBI, local police and sheriff's office to alarm people. The scammer calls and threatens the intended victim with immediate arrest if they do not comply with their requests.

There are some key take-aways, and I would be most grateful if you could share them with family and friends of all ages since this is a multigeneration issue.

The government does not call people with threats or promises of money. Use extreme caution when receiving any unsolicited calls, texts, emails or letters, and investigate the legitimacy by contacting an agency directly. Do not trust numbers or links included in, emails, or text messages or caller ID.

Never provide your bank account or other personal information to anyone who contacts you claiming to be associated with a government agency. Always let someone you trust take a second look.

Please, if you encounter a scam to report it to the BBB Scamtracker even if you didn't lose money. The only way to put scammers out of business is to stop giving them business.

• Steve J. Bernas is President and CEO of the BBB of Chicago & Northern Illinois. He can be reached at

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