DETROIT — The Detroit Division of the FBI is warning residents of an increase in reports of scammers targeting Michiganders through unsolicited phone calls in which the caller claims to be a representative of a government agency, including the FBI.
Federal agencies do not call or email individuals threatening arrest or demanding money, the FBI said in a news release Tuesday.
Scammers often spoof caller ID information, and these calls are fraudulent even if they seem to be coming from an agency’s legitimate phone number. The FBI says recipients should hang up immediately and report the call.
There are multiple versions of the government impersonation scam and they all use intimidation tactics.
Typically, the caller tells the recipient that charges have been, or soon will be, filed against them, and threatens to confiscate the recipient’s property, freeze their bank accounts or have them arrested unless payment is made immediately.
If the recipient questions the caller, the caller becomes aggressive and says it will cost thousands of dollars in fees or court costs to resolve the matter.
The caller typically tells people to wire “settlement” money or provide payment via prepaid cards or gift cards to avoid arrest.
“Nobody wants to be the subject of a law enforcement investigation, and scammers are using that to their advantage to try to intimidate people into handing over their money,” said Timothy Waters, special agent in charge of the FBI’s Detroit Division. “It’s important to resist the urge to act immediately. We’re asking you to contact law enforcement to verify if the person contacting you is who they say they are.”
About 12,800 people reported being victims of government impersonation scams in 2020, with losses totaling almost $110 million, according to the Internet Crime Complaint Center.
At the Detroit Division – which covers the entire state of Michigan – 303 victims reported financial losses totaling almost $1.4 million.
These scams can also happen through texts or emails.
Common signs of a scam include misspellings, missing words and incorrect grammar.
Fraudulent emails may give the appearance of legitimacy by using pictures of the FBI director or the FBI seal and letterhead.
Members of the public who want to confirm they’ve been contacted by an actual FBI employee may call the FBI Detroit Division at 313-965-2323 and ask to be connected directly.
The FBI says to be wary of answering phone calls from unknown numbers, to not send money to anyone you don’t personally know and trust and to never give out personal information – including your Social Security number – over the phone or to individuals you do not know.