Skip nav to main content.
Financial Security

Spotting an Imposter

July 9, 2019

Scammers Can Pose as Friends, Family and Government Agencies. We've got some tips to help you spot bad actors.

How do I spot an imposter?

Scammers know how to get around our better judgment. They play on our emotions or promise big payoffs to get us to act. Many use the names of government agencies, trusted companies, or friends and family to get us to buy into their schemes. They may use phone calls, emails, letters, faxes or even text messages to try to fool us.

Let’s spot those impostors before it’s too late!  Here are some signs to watch for:

They want you to wire money.
Wiring money is like sending cash; once it’s gone, you can’t get it back. Don’t send a check or money order by overnight delivery or courier, either. And don’t deposit a check and wire money back — the check will turn out to be a fake. Con artists tell you to use these services so they can get your money before you realize you’ve been cheated. For more on money wiring scams, visit

They want you to pay to collect your winnings.
Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay insurance, taxes, or shipping to claim what you’ve won. Scammers pretend to be with banks and well-known companies like WalMart and Publishers Clearing House to make you think it’s the real deal. No matter how convincing the reasons, never send money to claim a prize.

They claim to be with a government agency.
They may try to get you to send money by saying they’re with the FBI, FTC, IRS, U.S. Customs and border protection or the U.S. Marshals Service. They might even use a real employee’s name and call from a Washington, D.C., phone number. But it’s a number they’ve faked. Contrary to scammers’ lines, no federal government agency supervises or runs sweepstakes.

They claim to be someone you care about.
You think it’s your grandson calling, panicked because he needs you to wire money to help him fix a car, get out of jail or a hospital emergency room, or leave a foreign country without the rest of the family finding out. Or a stranded friend emails and asks you to wire money overseas. In reality, it’s a scammer who sleuthed out your grand child’s name or hacked your friend’s email account. To make sure it’s not really a loved one in trouble, call a number you know to be genuine, and check the story out with other people in your circle. You also can ask the caller some questions that a stranger couldn’t possibly answer.

They want you to act now.
The key to successful impostor scams is getting you to send money before you find out who’s really on the other end. The more time you have, the more likely you’ll figure it out. Resist the pressure to act immediately before you’ve checked it out.

File a complaint with the FTC.
If you encounter an impostor scam, let the FTC know. File a complaint at or call 1-877-FTC-HELP. Federal Trade Commission Bureau of Consumer Protection Division of Consumer & Business Education.

Wondering about other money matters? Ask us a question!

Your question will not be publicly connected with your name or email. We will answer your question but we may not publish your question for others to see. Please give us up to 48 hours to give you the best possible answer.

  • This field is for validation purposes and should be left unchanged.


Translate »