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Don’t get duped by government impersonation scams

April 23, 2024 | 5 min read

In this article

  • Learn how the latest government impersonation scams work.
  • Get tips to protect yourself.
  • Find out how to report a suspected scam.

How long would it take you to save up $50,000? Years, decades, a lifetime? And how long would it take to lose $50,000? Maybe just a few minutes if you’re the victim of fraud.

And you wouldn’t be alone. Data from the Federal Trade Commission show that consumers lost more than $10 billion to fraud in 2023.1 Of those reported losses, $2.7 billion came from business and government impersonation scams, in which fraudsters contacted people and pretended to be from a government agency in order to trick people into giving up their personal and financial information. 

The good news is, you can protect yourself against government impersonation scams by learning about the latest schemes and following a few simple tips to safeguard your information. We’ll also share how to report a scam if you think you’ve been targeted.

Scam-o-rama: Watch out for these latest imposter schemes

Government impersonation scams

Your phone rings. The caller ID reads, “Internal Revenue Service.” So, is that the IRS calling? Highly unlikely. Scammers have become skilled at spoofing phone numbers and email addresses to make them appear like they’re really coming from a government agency. Fraudsters call, email or text you and pretend to be from the IRS, the Social Security Administration or the Federal Reserve in order to gain access to your personal and financial information. They might claim you owe back taxes and threaten legal action if you don’t pay them. Or they might say your Social Security benefits are expiring or suspended because you owe money. They might tell you you’re eligible for some kind of medical device and ask you to fill out a form with your Medicare number.

Sometimes, a fraudster will pose as an employee at a government agency like the Federal Reserve and try to convince you that your information or accounts have been compromised by hackers and that your funds are unsafe until you move them to a new account for protection. This scheme, in which scammers lie about your devices or accounts being hacked to try to get access, is called the phantom hacker scam.

Tips to protect yourself from government impersonation scams: 

  • Hang up or don’t answer if you receive a call from someone you don’t know, even if you recognize the name on your caller ID. If you want to check with a government agency to see if they’ve contacted you, look up their phone number and call them directly. Do not call the number on your caller ID.  
  • If you receive an email that looks like it’s from a government agency, don’t open it. If you do open it, don’t click on any links or download any attachments. Do not respond to the email. The best place for it is in your trash folder.
  • Do not reply to text messages or direct social media messages from anyone claiming to be from a government agency. 

Student loan scams

Student loan repayment scams purport to help you avoid repaying student loans, lower your loan payments or get your loans forgiven altogether. The goal of student loan scams is to get you to pay a fee for bogus services or persuade you to share your Federal Student Aid (FSA) login information with the scammer. Often, fraudsters claim to be from or affiliated with the Department of Education or your student loan servicer, and they might even contact you from an email address or phone number that looks legitimate, thanks to spoofing. They use official-looking logos and seals and might even present a fake ID to try to gain your trust. If they gain access to your FSA information, they could cut off contact between you and your student loan servicer or steal your identity.

Tips to protect yourself from student loan scams:

  • Stick to the most trusted and secure source for your student loan information: the Federal Student Aid website.
  • Don’t believe anyone who says you need to pay for a program to lower your student loan payments or get forgiveness. You can do that all for free yourself at
  • Just relax. Like most scammers, the perpetrators of student loan scams try to create a sense of urgency around their con, claiming their “offer” will expire soon or that you could face penalties for not signing up. Someone trying to pressure you into acting quickly is a huge red flag for a scam. 

Precious metals scams

Over the last seven months of 2023, people – including many senior citizens – lost more than $55 million to precious metals scams, according to the Federal Bureau of Investigation.2  This scam works in two steps: In the first step, fraudsters pose as government officials or tech support and claim your financial accounts have been or are at risk of being compromised (the phantom hacker tactic) and instruct you to sell all your assets for cash or buy precious metals like gold or silver to “protect” your money. In step two, couriers pick up the cash or precious metals from you at your home or in a public place under the false pretense of keeping it “safe” for you in a separate account or protected space. And that’s the last you hear from them.

Tips to protect yourself from precious metals scams:

  • Know that the U.S. government will never ask you to buy precious metals.
  • Don’t respond to emails, phone calls or texts claiming to be from a government agency. Always look up the agency yourself and contact them directly.
  • Do not disclose personal information and never share your home address or agree to meet with someone you don’t know to deliver cash or precious metals.

Think you’ve been scammed? Here’s what to do.

Learning about the latest scams and staying cautious are good steps toward protecting ourselves from fraud, but unfortunately, sometimes we might still get taken. Fraudsters make scamming their full-time job and are always concocting new schemes to claim more victims. If you think you’ve been the target of a scam, you can file a report with the FBI at the bureau’s Internet Crime Complaint Center

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