Govt officials impersonated in widespread extortion schemes

FBI

Scammers are impersonating government officials and law enforcement in active and rampant extortion schemes targeting Americans’ money or personally identifiable information (PII).

Cybercriminals use fake credentials belonging to well-known US government and law enforcement agencies.

They are also spoofing authentic phone numbers in these scam attempts, the FBI revealed in a public service announcement published on Monday.

“The FBI is warning the public of ongoing widespread fraud schemes in which scammers impersonate law enforcement or government officials in attempts to extort money or steal personally identifiable information,” the FBI warned.

“Scammers will use an urgent and aggressive tone, refusing to speak to or leave a message with anyone other than their targeted victim; and will urge victims not to tell anyone else, including family, friends, or financial institutions, about what is occurring.”

Targets are threatened with arrest, prosecution, or imprisonment for various bogus reasons or asked to provide sensitive information because they were affected by a data breach or their documents have expired and need to be renewed.

Those extorted and threatened with fake legal consequences are told to pay various sums of money using prepaid cards or overseas wire transfers. Some are also asked to pay using cash, either by mail or via cryptocurrency ATMs.

If it’s a phone call or an email, it’s a scam

However, as the FBI says, government officials or law enforcement authorities will never reach out by phone to demand payments or to request personal/sensitive information.

The FBI added that you would only be contacted in person or by official letters following legitimate legal actions or investigations. You should never comply with any requests before asking for credentials to validate police or government officials’ identities.

As the US federal law enforcement agency further explained in today’s advisory:

  • NO legitimate law enforcement or government official requests payment via prepaid cards or cryptocurrency ATM.
  • Never give anyone personally-identifying information without verifying the person is who they say they are.

Today’s PSA comes after the FBI warned in February that BEC (business email compromise) scammers are impersonating CEOs in virtual meetings and are increasingly targeting US organizations and individuals.

The federal agency also said cybercriminals are escalating SIM swap attacks to steal millions by hijacking their targets’ phone numbers.

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