How You Can Avoid Falling Victim to Con Artists

Danger lurks everywhere on the internet. Whether it’s accidentally clicking on a corrupt link that installs a virus onto your computer, or discovering that your email has been hacked and is sending out unauthorized messages to all of your contacts, many of us are familiar with the frustration and potential fallout from these dreaded scenarios.  It’s become necessary to use smart online practices to help in keeping our personal information safe.  Using a paid service, such as LifeLock, to monitor if your sensitive data shows up on the dark web, proactively tracking all activity on your credit cards and bank accounts, and regularly checking your credit reports are all habits that can help defend you from a variety of scams. However, The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that in 2022 the most reported con is the “imposter scam,” and protecting yourself from this one requires a different approach.

What is an imposter scam?

The imposter scam involves a much more personal attack. It can leave victims frustrated, confused, and sometimes duped out of large sums of money.  Essentially, a scammer pretends to be someone in authority, or someone you trust, and convinces you to send them money – usually by way of gift cards or wire transfers.  The fraudsters involved in these scams are well-rehearsed, use technology to their advantage, and are skilled at convincing their “marks” of their sincerity, whether that is by way of intimidation or preying on vulnerability.  Scammers will attempt to exploit anyone they can, yet, the FTC reports some interesting statistics:

  • Older adults age 60+ are better at spotting scams before losing money to them. In fact, they reported attempted scams (without any financial loss) at nearly twice the rate of people between 20 and 59.
  • Still, adults over 60 suffered larger financial losses when they did fall victim, and this greatly increased for the over-80 age group.
  • Many imposter scams target those who may be less tech-savvy, with phone scams reportedly doing the most damage.

There are many versions of the imposter scam.  Here are some of the current forms to watch out for:

  • Government or law enforcement representative. A scammer might call claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, the Internal Revenue Service, Medicare or the FBI. They will do everything they can to trick or threaten you into giving up personal information or sending money. For example, you might receive a call from a spoofed phone number that looks like it’s genuinely coming from a government office. The scammer may say they are a representative of the IRS contacting you about back taxes you owe, and they will “allow” you to pay up before a sheriff is sent to arrest you. Or they may claim to be from Medicare and say there is a problem with your insurance. They ask you to verify your Medicare ID number so they can clear the issue to “help” you, and then use that to steal your benefits.
  • Tech support. You get a call from someone who says they work in Microsoft’s tech support, and they claim to see that you’re having issues. Or you notice a popup while you’re online and it warns you that a virus has infected your computer.  Either way, the intention behind that contact is for you to click on a link that will either turn over control of your computer to the scammer or will download an actual virus that holds your information hostage, until you pay the scammer a ransom.
  • Grandkid or family emergency scams. You might get a call from someone that says they are your grandson and they’re in trouble. They claim to be in prison and need bail money, but beg you not to tell anyone. They say they can’t speak long, but their lawyer will call you next. The next scammer then calls and gets you to wire money. Variations of this have included so-called “friends” contacting you on behalf of your adult child who “caused an accident and is in a lot of trouble” and needs money right away, which they will come collect from you in cash. Or truly playing on your fears, a supposed kidnapper calls demanding ransom money because they are holding your teenage daughter hostage.  What is most unsettling about these scams is that the technology now readily available can convincingly mimic a family member’s voice. A recent report by AARP explains that the use of AI technology such as voice-mimicking software, deepfake videos and chatbots are making these scams even harder to detect. It’s easier for a fraudster to convince you that the person you are speaking with is truly your loved one with a technology-replicated voice.
  • Romance scams. Maybe you’ve been looking for love through a dating site. Or someone spots one of your posts on social media and comments that they find you interesting and would like to get to know you better. You make an online connection with this person, and you get along so well. They know all the right things to say. They’d love to meet you in person, but they are working abroad right now, or they are in the military, so it’s just not possible at this time. Next thing you know, an emergency expense comes up and they need you to wire them money. Next month it’s another emergency and more money.  They’ll never run out of excuses and always need you to wire more money. Unfortunately, this is not your soulmate, this is a scammer.

What can you do to protect yourself?

Every imposter scam involves urgency or pressure. Many times, we will sense that something might not be right, but a scammer can intentionally create a confusing situation and instill doubt. Imposter scams are particularly frustrating because they usually involve a human being who is reacting to your responses and adjusting their approach accordingly.  That doesn’t mean you have to listen.

  1. Slow down. In any situation, take a second and identify what could be going on. If someone claims they are calling on behalf of your adult son who has been in an accident, hang up and contact your son directly. If a caller says they are from the IRS and sending sheriffs to arrest you, remember that government agencies will always contact you with an official letter in the mail. Hang up!
  2. Do not send money. Fraudsters will ask for payment in the form of prepaid gift or debit cards, wire transfers or cash.
  3. If you think something might be a scam, contact a trusted friend or family member. Scammers may urge you not to tell anyone. They will make up any excuse as to why you should keep the situation to yourself. That should always be a red flag.
  4. Talk about this with friends and family. Not everyone knows to look out for scams and new ones are constantly evolving.
  5. Report it. If you paid a scammer, in some instances you may have the ability to recover your money. The FTC advises contacting your bank, your credit card company, a company you purchased a gift card through, or even the USPS if you sent cash through the mail. They may or may not be able to assist you in recovering your funds. Either way, file a report at


With scammers always looking for new ways to deceive us out of money, it’s important to remain on guard. By carefully scrutinizing any caller’s claims, we can learn to weed out a stranger’s bad intentions, and avoid their attempts to take advantage of us. If you have any questions or concerns, please feel free to contact us.