Imposter scams have surged past identity theft to become the most common form of fraud, according to a recent report by the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). In an imposter scam, the scammer pretends to be someone he/she isn’t, such as an IRS agent or a Social Security agent or an employee of a local utility. The scammer then exploits that persona to trick a victim into making a payment. 

Somewhat surprisingly, the report also disclosed that most scams do not occur online these days, despite the Internet’s lawless reputation. Scammers tempt victims via old-fashioned phone calls more than three times as often as via e-mail and websites combined, based on recent complaints to the FTC and other agencies. 

Why? When scammers call, they can keep the pressure on victims until they get their money or even modify the scam on the fly if necessary. Modern technology actually makes phone-based imposter scams more effective—most phones now have caller ID, and many people don’t realize that scammers can trick their caller ID into listing the IRS, a local utility or any other identity they want to take. 

The FTC report suggests that particular caution is warranted when someone requests payment via wire transfer or prepaid card/gift card. Scammers disproportionately favor these forms of payment because there’s no way to cancel the transaction after it’s made. With credit cards, you can report the fraud and request a chargeback, undoing the payment. 

To see the full report from the FTC, visit FTC.gov, and search “Consumer Sentinel Network Data Book 2018.”­