10 Government Imposter Scams That Are Easy To Fall For

Learn how scammers exploit your trust in government to steal your personal information.

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Updated July 18, 2024
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If you’ve been the victim of a scammer, you’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, Americans lost an estimated $8.8 billion to fraudsters in 2022 alone.

These schemes are becoming harder to detect as con artists get more creative in making their identities look legitimate. Failing to detect such scams can lead to unsuspecting citizens paying phony fines, taxes, or other fees.

One common tactic these swindlers use is to pretend to be from government agencies. Check out the following list of common government imposter scams to avoid wasting money by falling victim to them.

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USPS package delivery scam

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The U.S. Postal Service (USPS) sends out real text messages to update you on the status of packages. Swindlers are taking advantage of this practice by sending similar but fake text messages that purport to come from the USPS.

These texts contain a link that, when clicked, seeks to gather personally-identifying information. This practice is called “smishing.” If you receive an unsolicited text like this, report it to the USPS.

Social Security benefits scam

JohnKwan/Adobe social security and retirement income

These fraudsters impersonate representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA) or the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) to collect money or personal information from victims.

Be extra careful here: Scammers are known to try to fool victims by falsely using the name of an actual SSA employee and sometimes even a picture.

IRS scam

sharafmaksumov/Adobe homepage of internal revenue service

A recent Internal Revenue Service impersonation scam has so far impacted 6,400 victims across the U.S. who paid $36.5 million in fraudulent “tax collections.”

In this scheme, fraudsters claim to represent the IRS and demand immediate payment of outstanding taxes, usually via wire service. Scammers threaten victims with arrest if the latter do not pay immediately.

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Department of motor vehicles scam

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Fake websites that appear to be from the Department of Motor Vehicles (DMV) lure unsuspecting drivers to renew their licenses or register their vehicles online.

Later, victims discover that they’ve been duped into giving away bits of personal information — such as Social Security numbers or driver’s license numbers — that con artists can use to commit identity fraud.

SNAP benefits scam

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You don’t have to be rich to be the target of scammers. Some con artists prey upon people receiving benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.

In this hoax, recipients receive a text that their SNAP electronic benefit transfer card has been locked and must call a given number to unlock it. 

This phishing scam seeks to get sensitive personal information out of victims, including PINs, to their cards so that the scammers can skim SNAP benefits.

FBI scam

Kristina Blokhin/Adobe federal bureau of investigation headquarters

In this scam, criminals pretending to be from the FBI call or text from what appear to be legitimate numbers and try to extract money or personally identifying information from their victims.

They may threaten to arrest you, take your property, or freeze your accounts if you don’t pay. Don’t fall for this scam: The FBI will never ask for money.

CIA email scam

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Some folks report receiving phony emails from the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA). These emails might contain malware viruses that could harm a computer. In reality, the CIA never sends unsolicited emails to the public.

HUD scam

Andriy Blokhin/Adobe The HUD building

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) and the Office of Inspector General (OIG) are among those warning about a scam in which crooks pretend to represent HUD when targeting businesses.

These scammers make phony purchase orders, usually for hard drives, computers, or medical equipment.

Unlike many other scams, this one targets businesses and corporations. That's a reminder that you must be alert even when you’re at work.

Police impersonator scam

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This con usually comes from a legitimate-looking law enforcement phone number. But the “officer” claims the victim has an outstanding warrant or has missed a court date.

The scammer then insists that the victim pay money immediately to avoid arrest.

The scammer — who may use the name of a real officer — might even demand cryptocurrency or gift cards as a form of payment. The best way to fight this scam is to hang up and report it to the police department.

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Student loan scam

Brian Jackson/Adobe saving for education

Many con artists have capitalized on the buzz surrounding student loan forgiveness by aggressively advertising that borrowers should “act immediately to qualify for student loan forgiveness before the program is discontinued.”

This creates a sense of urgency so scammers can extract fictitious “student loan cancellation fees” or sensitive information.

To avoid these scams, don’t respond to emails that are not from noreply@studentaid.gov, noreply@debtrelief.studentaid.gov, or ed.gov@public.govdelivery.com.

Also, remember that official Federal Student Aid texts are always sent from 227722 and 51592.

Bottom line

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Fraudsters are becoming more inventive all the time, making their cons look increasingly convincing. Protecting yourself from these scams can help you keep more money in your wallet.

Be wary of anyone who says they’re from a government agency, especially if you haven’t made the initial contact. If you’re unsure if someone contacting you is from the government, hang up or call the agency directly.

Also, keep your guard up if you get unusual requests. Government representatives will never ask you to wire money or pay in alternative forms like gift cards or cryptocurrency.

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Author Details

Jenni Sisson

Jenni Sisson is a freelance writer and editor who focuses on personal finance, real estate, and entrepreneurship. She has been published in Business Insider and The Ways to Wealth. In addition to writing, Jenni hosts the Mama's Money Map podcast to help fellow stay-at-home moms on their journey to financial freedom.