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The Great Pretenders: How Impersonation Scams Siphoned Over $1 Billion in 2023

Nearly 500,000 complaints filed.
Ryan Uliss
Contributing Writer
Multiple mouse traps with cheese on a dark background.

In recent years, scams impersonating well-known businesses and government agencies have become increasingly prevalent, posing a significant threat to consumers. In a recent report from the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), data shows that in 2023, there were more than 330,000 FTC reports of business impersonation scams and nearly 160,000 reports of government impersonation scams, amounting to nearly half of the total frauds reported to the agency.

The combined reported losses from these impersonation scams topped $1.1 billion, more than tripling the losses reported in 2020. The tactics used by these scammers have evolved, with a notable shift in the methods they employ.

While reports of scams starting with a phone call have plummeted, scams initiated through text messages or emails have significantly increased. Additionally, there has been a growing trend of scammers impersonating multiple organizations within a single scam, blurring the lines between business and government impersonation.

Common Impersonation Tactics

The top five types of impersonation scams account for nearly half of the reports received in 2023:

  • Copycat account security alerts: Scammers send messages about suspicious activity or unauthorized charges, claiming to be from companies like Amazon or the victim’s bank, and ask the recipient to call a phone number or respond with “YES” or “NO.”
  • Phony subscription renewals: Scammers send emails that appear to be notices about an account renewal, often claiming to be from Geek Squad, and ask the recipient to call to process a “refund.”
  • Fake giveaways, discounts, or money to claim: Scammers send messages about a giveaway, discount, or free money, claiming to be from a well-known company or the government, and ask the recipient to pay a fee or buy gift cards to claim the offer.
  • Bogus problems with the law: Scammers pretending to be government agents claim the victim’s identity has been used in a crime and offer to help “fix” the problem, often by asking the victim to move money or purchase gift cards.
  • Made-up package delivery problems: Scammers send messages appearing to be from the U.S. Postal Service, UPS, or FedEx, claiming there is a problem with a delivery and asking the recipient to provide personal or financial information.

Recognizing and Avoiding Scams

These scams leverage tactics that play on the emotions of victims, making it harder for them to spot the warning signs. Scammers often disguise their messages to look like legitimate communications from trusted businesses or government agencies, and they reframe their demands for money to avoid raising suspicion.

To protect themselves, consumers are advised to never click on links or respond to unexpected messages, and to contact the company or agency instead directly using a verified phone number or website. Additionally, it is wise to be wary of any requests to buy gift cards, use Bitcoin ATMs, or move money, as these are clear signs of a scam.

By staying vigilant and verifying the authenticity of any communication, consumers can reduce their risk of falling victim to these increasingly sophisticated impersonation scams.

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