Beware scams claiming to be from the federal government

Over the last few weeks, BBB has received numerous calls from consumers inquiring about or reporting everything from grant scams to computer and lottery scams, all supposedly coming from federal agencies or commissions.
October 25, 2013

 Several callers reported unsolicited phone call notifying her they “won” a grant but had to pay a fee in order to collect it.

 Others reported receiving calls from scammers claiming to be from the Federal Trade Commission, notifying them they won a lottery/sweepstakes but had to pay taxes and fees before she could collect the money.

 BBB is also receiving reports from residents claiming they were receiving phone calls from Medicare requesting banking information or other private information to “update files” or “issue a new card.”

 Then, there is always the FBI ransomware computer scam, where a virus, supposedly from the FBI, is placed on computers and the scammers then demand payment to restore use to the resident. In this case, people usually have to have the computer professionally repaired in order to remove the virus and regain use of their machine.

 In all these cases, federal agencies do not operate in this manner. 

  • The federal government and its federal Trade Commission do not participate in lotteries and sweepstakes in any way. 
  • Federal grants are awards only if someone applies for them and they are awarded on merit. You will not be awarded a grant if you shop at a certain retail outlet or pay your bills and taxes on time. 
  • Medicare/Medicaid will never contact anyone over the phone to “update information.” If there are any changes to a resident’s status or information is needed, they will contact them by mail. 
  • The FBI will never seize control of your computer with a virus and demand money to have it restored.

 For all of these scams, the details often change to a greater or lesser degree, but scammers are always after the same thing: money and private information to commit identity theft or fraud.

 BBB offers the following tips to avoid these and similar scams: 

  • Start with Trust®. Check with the BBB before doing business.
  • If you get one of these calls, just hang up. You may be tempted to call back, but this will only give the scammer another opportunity to steal your information. Be sure not to press any buttons that the scammers instruct and report the incident to BBB.
  • Never give out your bank account numbers, date of birth, credit card number or Social Security number to an unsolicited caller or anyone you don’t know.
  • In the event that you give your personal information, inform your banks, credit card providers and credit reporting agencies so they can be on the lookout for potential identity thieves.
  • Remember lottery tickets must be purchased and sweepstakes must be entered to win. Government grants have a thorough application process as well.
  • Never pay any money to collect supposed sweepstakes winnings. If you have to pay to collect your winnings, you’re not winning. Legitimate sweepstakes don’t require you to pay “insurance,” “taxes” or “shipping and handling charges” to collect your prize.
  • Never wire money. Scammers pressure people to wire money through commercial money transfer companies because wiring money is the same as sending cash.

BBB works for a trustworthy marketplace by maintaining standards for truthful advertising, investigating and exposing fraud against consumers and businesses. For more than 100 years, BBB has helped consumers make smarter buying decisions and is evolving to meet fast-changing marketplace needs.

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