FBI Warns Public to Beware of Government Impersonation Scams
Federal agencies do not threaten individuals or demand immediate payment
The FBI Boston Division has seen an increase in reports of scammers targeting New Englanders through unsolicited telephone calls in which the caller claims to be a representative of a government agency, including the FBI.
Be advised, federal agencies do not call or email individuals threatening arrest or demanding money. Scammers often spoof caller ID information, and these phone calls are fraudulent even if they appear to be coming from an agency’s legitimate phone number. Recipients should hang up immediately and report the call.
There are many versions of the government impersonation scam, and they all exploit intimidation tactics. Typically, the caller advises the recipient of the call that charges have been, or soon will be, filed against them, and threatens to confiscate the recipient’s property, freeze their bank accounts, or have them arrested unless payment is made immediately. If the recipient questions the caller, the caller becomes more aggressive. The recipients are advised that it will cost thousands of dollars in fees or court costs to resolve the matter, and the caller typically instructs people to wire “settlement” money or provide payment via prepaid cards or gift cards to avoid arrest.
“Nobody wants to be the subject of a law enforcement investigation, and scammers are using that to their advantage to try and intimidate people into just handing over their hard-earned money. We’re asking you not to fall for it,” said Joseph R. Bonavolonta, special agent in charge of the FBI Boston Division. “It’s important to resist the urge to act immediately and verify who is actually contacting you.”
According to the Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3), 12,827 people reported being victims of government impersonation scams in 2020, with losses totaling $109,938,030. Here in the Boston Division, which includes all of Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, and Rhode Island, 405 complaints were filed with financial losses totaling $3,789,407.
- 44 victims in Maine reported financial losses totaling $32,252.
- 270 victims in Massachusetts reported financial losses totaling $3,254,895.
- 38 victims in New Hampshire reported losing $89,382.
- 53 victims in Rhode Island lost approximately $412,878.
The FBI will never:
- Call or email private citizens to demand payment or threaten arrest. You will also not be asked to wire a “settlement” to avoid arrest.
- Ask you to use large sums of your own money to help catch a criminal.
- Ask you for wire transfers or gift cards.
- Call you about “frozen” Social Security numbers or to coordinate inheritances.
Scams impersonating the FBI and other government agencies are a persistent problem and can also occur via email. Common hallmarks of a scam email include misspellings, missing words, and incorrect grammar. Fraudulent emails may give the appearance of legitimacy by using pictures of the FBI Director and/or the FBI seal and letterhead.
Members of the public seeking to confirm that they have been contacted by an actual FBI employee are encouraged to call the FBI Boston Division at 857-386-2000 and ask to be connected directly.
To avoid becoming a victim of this scam, be wary of answering phone calls from numbers you do not recognize. Do not send money to anybody that you do not personally know and trust. Never give out your personal information, including your Social Security number, over the phone or to individuals you do not know.
If you think you are a victim of this scam and suffered a financial loss, please file a report with your local law enforcement agency and the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (IC3) at ic3.gov.
All types of fraud schemes and scams (even if there is no financial loss) should be reported to IC3. Filing a complaint allows analysts from the FBI to identify leads and patterns from the hundreds of complaints that are received daily. The IC3 then refers the complaints, along with their analyses, to the relevant law enforcement agency to aid in public awareness and crime-prevention education efforts.