Skip to Main Content

Detecting and Reporting Phone and Online Scams (AkLA 2022): Common Scams

Government Imposter Scams


Government Imposter scammers are among the most frightening because they threaten you with the power of the state. They'll threaten you with fines, arrests and sometimes even deportation. An 2018 blog post from the Federal Trade Commission has this to say about Government Imposter Scams:

You get a text, call, or email from someone who says they’re with the government. They may claim to be a U.S. Marshal, saying you must pay a fine for missing jury duty. Or the IRS, saying that you owe thousands in back taxes. Some might threaten legal action, deportation, or arrest if you don’t pay up or give them your financial information.

In other cases, it sounds less scary and more like your lucky day. The call, text, or email will say you’ve won a prize, the lottery, or a grant — but you need to pay some fees or taxes to get your winnings.

These are all scams. Scammers will try to make it seem legitimate. They might give you a badge number, or even know information like the last four digits of your Social Security number. A Washington, D.C. area code on your caller ID also might seem convincing. But caller ID can be faked.

For more about Government Imposter scams and how you can respond, see links below, and the next section of this guide on Detecting Scams.


Romance Scams

"Online love interest" plus "Asks for Money" Equals "Scam"


As online dating has become more popular, scammers have jumped onto dating sites and social media to separate lonely people looking for love and companionship from their money. The AARP offers this description of a romance scam:

The con typically works something like this: You post a dating profile and up pops a promising match — good-looking, smart, funny and personable. Supposed suitors might also reach out on social media; more than a third of people who lost money to a romance scam in 2021 reported that it started on Facebook or Instagram, according to the FTC. 

This potential mate claims to live in another part of the country or to be abroad for business or a military deployment. But he or she seems smitten and eager to get to know you better, and suggests you move your relationship to a private channel like email or a chat app.

Over weeks or months, you feel yourself growing closer. You make plans to meet in person, but for your new love something always comes up. Then you get an urgent request. There’s an emergency (a medical problem, perhaps, or a business crisis) and your online companion needs you to send money fast, usually via gift cards, prepaid debit cards, cryptocurrency, or a bank or wire transfer.

They'll promise to pay it back, but that will never happen. Instead, they will keep asking for more until you realize it's a scam and cut them off.

The Federal Trade Commission provides some suggestions if you suspect you're a victim of a romance scam.

If you suspect a romance scam

  • Stop communicating with the person immediately.
  • Talk to someone you trust, and pay attention if your friends or family say they’re concerned about your new love interest.
  • Do a search for the type of job the person has to see if other people have heard similar stories. For example, you could do a search for “oil rig scammer” or “US Army scammer.” You can also browse the comments on our blog posts about romance scams to hear other people’s stories:
  • Do a reverse image search of the person’ profile picture to see if it’s associated with another name or with details that don’t match up – those are signs of a scam.



Tech Support Scams

Fake pop up security alert asking you to call a number. Real security alerts won't do this.

If you get a call from out of the blue from someone working with Microsoft or some other company you've heard of and they'd like to help you fix your computer, hang up! It's probably a tech support scam. The Federal Trade Commission has this to say about tech support scams:

Tech support scammers want you to believe you have a serious problem with your computer, like a virus. They want you to pay for tech support services you don't need, to fix a problem that doesn’t exist. They often ask you to pay by wiring money, putting money on a gift card, prepaid card or cash reload card, or using a money transfer app because they know those types of payments can be hard to reverse.

Below are some links that will help you avoid scams and help you if you've been scammed.

Photo credit

All scam related images on this page were taken from the Federal Trade Commission. 

So many more ways to separate people from their money