In an Imposter Scam, con artists pressure victims into paying money for taxes, a prize, or a quick personal loan by posing as a government agent, a sweepstakes representative, or even a relative desperate for help.   These scams are designed to separate victims from their money. 

The con artist might call or email and say use key phrases such as “I need money for unpaid taxes owed to the IRS;” or “There are processing fees you need to pay to claim your prize;” or “You’ll need to pay some lawyers’ fees to get your loved one out of a jam.”

The IRS has seen an increase in “robo-calls” where scammers leave an urgent call back request for payment on their tax bill.  “It used to be that most of these bogus calls would come from a live-person. Scammers are evolving and using more and more automated calls . . .,” said IRS Commissioner John Koskinen. “Taxpayers should remain alert for this summer surge of phone scams. . .” 

The set-ups vary, and con artists use high-pressure tactics to persuade unsuspecting citizens they need to pay up — or hand over personal information — in order to quickly resolve an issue.

If the consumer agrees to pay, scammers typically ask for payment via a wire transfer, reloadable debit card, or iTunes gift card, all of which are methods that are difficult to track. Last year, imposter scams were reported to the Federal Trade Commission by 350,000 consumers

Use these tips provided by to identify and protect yourself from a potential imposter scammer:

  • Be wary of Caller ID. Scammers are pro’s at tricking Caller ID systems into showing the caller information they want it to show. Just because the Caller ID says “IRS,” “police,” or “National Consumers League,” that does not guarantee that the person on the other end is with that organization.
  • Don’t engage. Hang up. If you receive a call from someone urgently requesting money, this is a red flag; avoid spending time investigating why they’re calling. Scammers are professionals who know exactly which buttons to push to get you to make a quick decision.
  • Be careful of emails. The imposter scam can happen over phone and email. If you receive an email from someone demanding money right away, it’s probably a scam. Delete the email; do not reply. Don’t click on any links or attachments that come with the email which may contain malware that can damage your computer.
  • Do your own research.  If you’re concerned about the issue presented by the caller/email, look up the phone number for the individual or agency in a phonebook or on the agency’s or company’s official website. Call that number yourself and check to see if what you were told by the caller is accurate.
  • Never pay for a prize. If someone informs you that you won a prize, you should not have to pay any taxes, delivery fees, or insurance payments to collect it.
  • Don’t send a wire transfer, cash-reload card, or gift card. These are all ways that scammers ask to be paid with urgency.
  • Report suspected fraud. If you become a victim of a scam or you suspect you have spotted one, report it! You can file a complaint at via their secure online complaint form. shares your complaint with a network of more than 90 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put con artists behind bars.
  • The Federal Trade Commission also offers additional resources on imposter scams available at
  • Print the Avoid Imposter Scams graphic by and leave it by your phone to help loved ones know what to do in case they receive a call.

If you are interested in learning more about imposter scams, speak with a Community Resource Specialist: (408) 350-3200, option 1.