Here are two deceptions that they have used successfully to steal money from people:
You’ve "Won" a Lottery or SweepstakesSomeone claiming to be a government official calls, telling you that you’ve won a federally supervised lottery or sweepstakes. They may say they’re from “the national consumer protection agency,” the non-existent National Sweepstakes Bureau, or even the very real Federal Trade Commission — and it looks like they’re calling from a legitimate number. They also might send e-mails, text messages or letters.
- tell you you’ll have to pay taxes or service charges before you can collect your winnings
- ask you to send money to an agent of “Lloyd’s of London” or some other well-known insurance company to “insure” delivery of your prize
- ask you to wire money right away, often to a foreign country
You Owe a Fake DebtYou might get a call or an official-looking letter that has your correct name, address and Social Security number. Often, fake debt collectors say they’re with a law firm or a government agency — for example, the FTC, the IRS or a sheriff’s office. Then, they threaten to arrest you or take you to court if you don’t pay on a debt you supposedly owe.
The truth: there’s no legitimate reason for someone to ask you to wire money or load a rechargeable money card as a way to pay back a debt. If you’re unsure whether the threat is legitimate, look up the official number for the government agency, office or employee (yes, even judges) and call to get the real story. Even if it is a real debt, you have rights under the Fair Debt Collection Practices Act.
Variations on these scams include people claiming to be with the IRS collecting back taxes, or scammers posing as representatives of the United States Citizenship and Immigration Service (USCIS) who target immigration applicants and petitioners.
Don’t wire money
Don’t pay for a prize
If you didn’t enter a sweepstakes or lottery, then you can’t have won. Remember that it’s illegal to play a foreign lottery through the mail or over the phone.
Don’t give the caller your financial or other personal information
Don’t trust a name or number
To make their call seem legitimate, scammers also use internet technology to disguise their area code. So even though it may look like they’re calling from Washington, DC, they could be calling from anywhere in the world.
Put your number on the National Do Not Call Registry
ftc.gov/complaint. Be sure to include:
- date and time of the call
- name of the government agency the imposter used
- what they tell you, including the amount of money and the payment method they ask for
- phone number of the caller; although scammers may use technology to create a fake number or spoof a real one, law enforcement agents may be able to track that number to identify the caller
- any other details from the call