Consumer Protection

How to Protect Yourself: Imposter Scams

Source: The Florida Attorney General's Office


In an imposter scam, a con artist will contact a potential victim and pose as a trusted individual, such as a friend, family member, law enforcement officer or government agency representative. The scammer will then request or demand money, claiming the victim will avoid some penalty or gain some benefit.

Charity Scams:

While there are numerous legitimate, worthy charities doing great work, some scam artists seek to take advantage of the charitable spirit of others. Imposters will pose as representatives of a legitimate charity or promote a fictional charity in order to solicit funds, which they then pocket. Be sure you know that the charity soliciting money is legitimate before donating. Check to see if the charity is registered with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services at www.floridaconsumerhelp.com or by calling 1-800-HELP-FLA. You may also contact the Better Business Bureau's Wise Giving Alliance at www.give.org or Charity Navigator at www.charitynavigator.org to determine whether the charity has any complaints against it.

Romance Scams:

Imposters pose as individuals on dating sites, social media sites, or even in person in an attempt to connect with potential victims. These imposters may convince would-be victims that they have similar interests, run in similar social circles, have compatible values and goals, or otherwise attempt to forge an emotional connection. Once the imposter has formed a connection with an individual, they claim they need money urgently to cover an emergency, deal with a family situation, take advantage of a business opportunity, recover from theft or a stolen identity, or to travel to meet them. Be wary of sending funds to a new friend or romantic interest. Prior to sending money, signing over property or providing gifts to a new friend, consult a financial advisor, attorney or a trusted friend or family member.

The Grandparents Scam:

Imposters pose as law enforcement officers and call grandparents claiming that a grandchild is in jail. They then demand immediate payment to bail the grandchild out of jail. In another iteration of the scam, a person claiming to be the grandchild will call saying they have been mugged or otherwise detained in another country and are in need of money to get home. To avoid falling victim, verify through another means the grandchild’s whereabouts and avoid acting immediately.

The IRS Scam:

Scammers pose as IRS agents and call or email potential victims claiming that they owe the IRS and unless they are paid immediately, they will be arrested. The imposters demand that the victim wire money or provide a prepaid debit card in order to pay the taxes and avoid arrest. Know that the IRS will never make first contact via email or over the phone. They will always make first contact by mail. Should you receive a letter that appears to be from the IRS and it instructs you to call a number, verify online that the number listed in the letter is in fact a number associated with the IRS. The IRS also will never demand that you wire money or provide a prepaid debit card for payment.

The Jury Duty Scam:

Scammers pose as law enforcement officers and call or email a potential victim claiming that they have missed jury duty. The scammers claim the victim must pay a fine immediately or they will be arrested. Know that a court official will never ask for you to wire money or ask for your confidential information over the phone or via email.

The Arrest Warrant Scam:

Similar to the jury duty scam, imposters pose as law enforcement officers and call or email a potential victim claiming that they have a warrant out for their arrest or are otherwise being pursued by law enforcement. The imposters will claim the victim must pay them immediately or they will be arrested. Know that a law enforcement or court official will never ask for you to wire money or ask for your confidential information over the phone or via email.

Sweepstakes and Lottery Scams:

Imposters claiming to be with the Governor’s Office, Attorney General’s Office or a private law firm will call or email a potential victim and tell them they have won the Publisher’s Clearinghouse sweepstakes, a foreign sweepstakes or a foreign lottery. Victims are told they need to pay customs duties or taxes before the winnings can be sent to them. Legitimate sweepstakes do not require you to pay anything to receive the prize you have won. If you are told that you must pre-pay taxes, you are probably being scammed. Taxes can either be withheld from a cash award or, more commonly, are reported by the company to the IRS and you declare the prize on your annual tax return. Also, know that participating in a foreign lottery is against federal law.

Utility Scams:

Imposters claim to be from one of the utilities in Florida and threaten to turn off the power, gas or water unless a payment is made. Should you receive such a call, hang up and contact your utility provider using the phone number that appears on your bill to determine the status of your account. Report any fraudulent utilities calls to your utility provider.

Company Imposters:

Similar to charity scams, some imposters seek to take advantage of trust placed into a long-standing or familiar business by sending communications that appear to be from the trusted business but are actually from a scam artist. Prior to providing a payment, ensure that you are doing business with the intended company; if you have any doubts, contact the company at the phone number or web address that appears on your billing statement.

Phishing Scams:

“Phishing” is a term that describes when online scammers copy the format and look of a legitimate company’s website or emails in an attempt to trick unsuspecting individuals to share their usernames, passwords, account numbers, credit card numbers or other sensitive personal information. They often do this by saying the individual must “confirm” or “update” their account information. If you receive an email asking for personal information, do not click any links or reply. Instead, contact that business using a phone number or web address you know to be genuine and confirm whether the email originated from them.

File a complaint.

If you believe you are the victim of an imposter scam, file a complaint with the Attorney General’s Office online at www.myfloridalegal.com or by phone at 1-866-9-NO-SCAM.

You may also file a complaint with the Florida Department of Agriculture and Consumer Services, which acts as the State's consumer complaint clearinghouse, at www.floridaconsumerhelp.com.