April 15, 2024

Playing harmless pranks on friends can be fun, but when a hoax targets someone's finances, only the scammer is laughing - all the way to the bank. Scammers take advantage of opportunities year-round to steal your hard-earned money. One of their most profitable tactics is the imposter scam.

What is an Imposter Scam?

An imposter scam is a type of fraud in which a scammer pretends to be someone you know and trust to trick you into sending them money. The scammer might impersonate a family member, friend, government employee, or reputable company. They falsely claim that you owe a debt, won a prize, or need to take specific action to help resolve an urgent issue. Imposter scams succeed when people share confidential financial information or comply with payment requests.

Imposter Scam Red Flags

Criminals use a variety of manipulative tactics. Stay alert to these common red flags:

  • Urgent phone calls from friends or family. Crooks can use artificial intelligence (AI) voice cloning software to replicate the voices of loved ones. This makes it easy for the caller to sound like a close friend or family member in a desperate situation.
  • Threats of arrest or massive fines. Scammers often impersonate law enforcement officers or government officials to create urgency and panic, making you believe you're facing serious repercussions for not acting immediately. They may falsely claim that irregularities exist in your records or that you risk losing government benefits.
  • Notifications of sweepstakes winnings. Fraudsters posing as legitimate prize fulfillment companies send unsolicited messages congratulating you on winning a prize and requesting 'processing fees'. These fees are often for non-existent prizes.
  • Email or text message account alerts. Fraudsters can use spoofing technology to send fake account alerts that request your assistance in resolving suspicious account activity. Email addresses and caller IDs might display the names of trusted sources, but the message might actually be from a scammer. 

How to Protect Yourself From Imposter Scams

You can become immune to scam foolery by remembering to:

  • Say “No” to unsolicited requests for personal details. Never share confidential information with someone who contacts you out of the blue. Refusing to disclose your Social Security number, account login credentials, or other sensitive data helps reduce the risk of an account takeover, medical insurance fraud, or other activity that could harm your finances.
  • Beware of calls or messages claiming an urgent need for cash, gift cards, or a wire transfer. Scammers often create a sense of urgency to make people act without thinking. Slow down and take time to evaluate the request. Remember that scammers favor these payments because they are hard to trace.
  • Acknowledge when communication makes you feel frantic or sympathy. Scammers aim to arouse these emotions, making you less likely to ask questions. Recognizing how emotions can be exploited allows you to resist impulsive reactions that could lead to devastating financial consequences. 
  • Verify unexpected payment requests received via social media. Scammers often use social media to request payment, but legitimate organizations do not. Don’t respond directly to the communication. Contact the sender through their official website. 
  • Confirm account alerts directly with the financial institution. If you DID NOT CONSENT to receive email or text alerts from a bank or credit union, an alert might be the start of a scam. Fraudsters impersonating employees of the institution try to exploit your trust in the organization to trick you into sharing your login credentials or other confidential information. 

If you DID CONSENT to receiving text messages from your financial institution, make sure you understand how their digital banking alerts work. This could make it easier to spot a fake alert. Visit HawaiiUSA’s Security Center for more tips on avoiding fraud.

If you suspect an imposter scam, cease communication and report it to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).