Phone Scammers Cost Consumers Millions Annually

August 13, 2019

Over the past five years, consumers have sent more than 1.3 million complaints to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) about scammers posing as government representatives. Whether they’re pretending to be from the IRS or a local police department, fraudsters like these have cost Americans more than $450 million since 2014. In fact, this year alone the FTC has received more than 200,000 complaints about calls from people claiming to be from agencies like the Social Security Administration. 

In one such case, scammers convinced a woman in the early stages of Alzheimer’s that her Social Security number had been stolen. They then said that she would need to send $3,200 worth of gift cards to an “employee” in order to make her information safe again. “Obviously, the majority of people would understand that this is a scam, but she is easily confused and gave away all of the money in her checking account,” said the woman’s daughter. “And once it was gone, there was no way to help her or recover the money.” In many cases, the victims simply aren’t aware that someone would even think to impersonate a government representative. 

“Pretending to be the government may be scammers’ favorite ruse,” said the FTC. “Government impersonators can create a sense of urgent fear, telling you to send money right away or provide your social security number to avoid arrest or some other trouble.” Officials say that fraudsters are becoming increasingly reliant on Social Security and Medicare scams, which could be a sign of their effectiveness. To avoid falling victim to any potential schemes, experts warn that you should hang up the phone immediately if the person on the other line says they’re with the government. Agencies like the Social Security Administration or IRS always make contact through U.S. mail, never by phone. Americans must be vigilant to protect the people in their lives who could be vulnerable to scam calls, especially since the government likely won’t be able to put a stop to them anytime soon. 


  1. How frequently do you receive scam phone calls? Do you have anyone in your life who could potentially fall victim to scammers?
  2. Do you think government regulators should do more to put a stop to scam phone calls? If so, what action could they potentially take?

Sources: Herb Weisbaum, “Get a Call From the Social Security Administration? It’s the Latest Government Imposter Scam,” NBC News, July 13, 2019; Michelle Singletary, “This Social Security Scam Is Just Evil,” The Washington Post, August 12, 2019.