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How Impostor Scams Work

by Sheryl Harris , Director, Department of Consumer Affairs
red don't sign over words Phone ScamsWhen a scammer calls a potential victim, only one person on the phone is a pro.

For scammers, posing as someone else and weaving a believable story is business as usual. It’s only the victims who get caught off guard by a bogus crisis that only a quick payment can fix.

People across Cuyahoga County – in face, across the country -- have reported losing money to scammers who:
  • pose as IRS agents with warrants for unpaid taxes
  • pretend to be a grandchild in need of bail money after a car accident
  • fake being a utility company that was about to cut their power
  • claim to be deputies coming to arrest them for missing jury duty or a court date

People who lose money to impostor scams often tell us they were truly terrified by threats they were about to be arrested or have their bank accounts seized.

Grandmas and grandpas tell us they were worried sick that their grandchild was in a jail cell, injured and alone, after hearing a sobbing voice on the phone.

Scams are designed to make you upset. That way, you won’t pay attention to the odd things about the call. Many scam victims tell us they recognized red flags only after they paid, when the panic subsided.

List of reasons to hang up the phone with red checksIf a call makes you feel scared or worried, hang up and think about how you could verify the information. Check in with a family member or friend. Text your grandchild. Call your local police or the Cuyahoga County Scam Squad at 216-443-7226. You are surrounded by people who – because they aren’t caught up in the call – can help you evaluate the situation clearly.

Here’s another thing you should know. Scammers want you to pay in a way that’s hard for police to trace. Right now, that means they’re asking victims to pay with money wires or store gift cards (Amazon and Best Buy cards are a couple current scammer favorites).

No government agency accepts money wires or store gift cards.

You can’t pay bail, your taxes or your utility bills with a gift card.

Reduce your chances of being scammed by refusing to answer calls from numbers you don’t know. And if you pick up by accident, hang up before you get caught in a scammer’s spell.

Learn more about how to how to protect yourself and your family from current scams, by visiting the Cuyahoga County Department of Consumer Affairs’ website or following @CuyCoConsumers on Facebook.