Here at the FPA, we're mostly focused on scams involving trading and investing. There are many more kinds of scams in the world, and you should spend a little bit of time learning about some of the other ones out there.
The US Social Security Administration (SSA) has declared March 9th, 2023 to be National Slam the Scam Day. The goal is to make life harder for scammers by pointing out some very common scams that misuse the SSA as a way to rip people off.
But wait! I'm not in the USA, so I'm safe, right? Not so fast. Even if you've never set foot inside the USA, these same type of scams can be done in the name of all sorts of government agencies around the world.
Here's the main text in the email they sent out on this:
On National Slam the Scam Day and throughout the year, we give you the tools to recognize Social Security-related scams and stop scammers from stealing your money and personal information. Share scam information with your loved ones. Slam the Scam!
Recognize the four basic signs of a scam:
- Scammers pretend to be from a familiar organization or agency, like the Social Security Administration. They may email attachments with official-looking logos, seals, signatures, or pictures of employee credentials.
- Scammers mention a problem or a prize. They may say your Social Security number was involved in a crime or ask for personal information to process a benefit increase.
- Scammers pressure you to act immediately. They may threaten you with arrest or legal action.
- Scammers tell you to pay using a gift card, prepaid debit card, cryptocurrency, wire or money transfer, or by mailing cash. They may also tell you to transfer your money to a “safe” account.
And it came complete with a button to report scams involving the US SSA. If you do have a scam involving someone using their agency name or logo to report, you can report it at:
IMPORTANT: Before clicking the link, notice the .gov in that website. Anyone can registerer Important-Government-Office-Site.com, .net, .org, etc, but only US government agencies can have domain names with .gov at the very end. Most countries use a specific domain name ending for government agencies. Just search online for the agency you want and you can usually figure out how it works. Examples include: Canada uses .gc.ca, the uk uses .gov.uk, and Mexico uses .gob.mx on official websites.
What they sent me was was a quick email. I'd like to expand a bit on their 4 main points.
1. Scammers frequently pretend to have official connections. If the scam is by email, make sure to check the domain name it's from and in any links. Just like the note I put under the SSA.gov link, check to make sure that the email and any linked domains are from an official domain name of the agency involved. Real government agencies don't send or recieve official emails from gmail, yahoo, hotmail, or other freely available addresses. Sorry, the guy from GovermentGiftsToTaxpayers@consultant.com is not real and will not be sending you anything but scam. Even if the reply address looks real, be careful about links too.
You can easily search online for real contact info for nearly all government agencies.
If someone calls, make sure to get their name and contact number and tell them you'll call back. Look up the main info number for the agency, call it, and ask if the name, number, and message are all real. Unless you previously initiated contact with the agency, there's a good chance the call is fake, but if you aren't sure, it's best to check.
2. Just because someone knows your name, phone number, and your ID number doesn't mean they are real. They may already have some info about you, or they may have contacted you randomly. Scammers will say ANYTHING to try to get more financial information out of you. They can use that information to try to access your bank accounts or just to try to seem more like a government representative when they pop up under a new fake name to try to scam you again. An email or inbound phone call asking "For your protection, what is your social security number so I can be sure I'm taking to the right person?" is really an attempt to get your social security number.
Other than some government lotteries (some states and countries have these, others don't) governments don't tend to give away prizes randomly. When they do, they don't call up or email you from some dodgy address. You can always search online to verify there's no such thing as a Department of Agriculture Prize for Home Gardening or any other unusual government giveaway. Many government agencies do offer grants for research, but you have to apply for those.
If there's a real problem with a government agency, you'll usually get an official letter (typically on real paper, not an email), You should be able to confirm the address and phone number online before responding. If you have let the government know your email address (I signed up to check how little I'll get from the SSA when I retire), they might contact you that way if the problem is minor (or send you a Slam the Scam mailing to try to prevent problems). Any contact info in the message should be easy to check out online.
If you have a BIG problem with a government agency, the contact is very likely to be a formal letter or a knock on your door. If it is a knock on the door (as opposed to the door being kicked down), any legitimate government agent should have no issue showing ID.
3. If you somehow owe money to a government agency, there will be a deadline, but it will not be "Pay today or you will be arrested!" email or phone call. Instead, there will be a clear deadline of at least a few days, since they will want you to be able to get the money. Before paying, you should check to be sure the request isn't fake Scammers are always in a hurry, because they know that if you have enough time to think clearly and check, their claims will be proven to be false.
Yes, there are some corrupt government officials out there who may want money right now. Those types aren't too likely to call or email, since you could either report them or flee.
4. Real government agencies do not accept gift cards as payments. They may take credit or debit cards, but that service will be inside a government office or via a link from an official government website. I paid some taxes last year using a credit card - from a link I found on the tax collection agency's official website. If you get a prepaid debit card and have sent it or shared the card details with a government official, you've just been scammed. If you mail a check, do it to an address from the agency's official website. If you send a bank wire, ONLY send it to accounts disclosed on the agency's official website. Western Union is ok for sending money to family and friends, but don't even consider it for an official payment unless the instructions are on an official website. Few governments accept cryto as payment. If they do, the wallet address will be published on their official website. Mailing cash to anyone is a really bad idea and I'm not aware of any government agency using send us cash in the mail as an official payment method.
In summary, collect information and ask questions first. Then verify the information before taking any actions. If it is a scam, then SLAM that Scam! Let the agency involved know about it. Also, let your family, friends, and neighbors know about any scam attempts. Every person warned makes it harder for scammers to steal money.
Has a trading or investment scam come knocking on your door? If so, you can open a Problem thread in the Financial Company Comparisons and Discussions folder. You can also report your case to police and regulators around the world to Fight Back Against Scammers.