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Government Impersonators and Romance Scammers Targeting Western Michigan Residents — FBI

The FBI in Michigan has received numerous reports of increased efforts by scammers to target residents across western Michigan with two different schemes: government impersonators and romance scams. In both fraud schemes, the scammer seeks to take advantage of a relationship of trust.

There are many versions of the government impersonation scam, and they all exploit intimidation tactics.

How to Identify a Government Impersonator:

  • The caller typically advises the recipient of the call 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 more aggressive.
  • The recipients are advised that it will cost thousands of dollars in fees or court costs to resolve the matter, and the caller typically instructs people to wire ‘settlement’ money or provide payment via prepaid cards or gift cards to avoid arrest.

Be advised, law enforcement agencies DO NOT call or email individuals threatening them or demanding that they send money. Scammers often spoof caller ID information, and these phone calls are fraudulent even if they appear to be coming from a law enforcement agency’s legitimate number. If you question the legitimacy of a call, hang up immediately and report the call to law enforcement (using the published number for that agency) and the FBI.

Romance scams occur when a criminal adopts a fake online identity to gain a victim’s affection and trust. The scammer then uses the illusion of a romantic or close relationship to manipulate and/or steal from the victim.

The criminals who carry out romance scams are experts at what they do and will seem genuine, caring, and believable. Unfortunately, con artists are present on most dating and social media sites.

The scammer’s intention is to establish a relationship as quickly as possible, endear himself to the victim, and gain trust. Scammers may propose marriage and make plans to meet in person, but that will never happen. Eventually, they will ask for money.

Scam artists use poetry, flowers, and other gifts to reel in victims, the entire time declaring their “undying love.” These criminals also use stories of severe life circumstances, tragedies, deaths in the family, injuries to themselves, or other hardships to keep their victims concerned and involved in their schemes. Scammers also ask victims to send money to help overcome a financial situation they claim to be experiencing. These are all lies intended to take money from unsuspecting victims.

In another scheme, scammers ask victims to receive funds in the form of a cashier’s check, money order, or wire transfer, claiming they are out of the country and unable to cash the instruments or receive the funds directly. The scammers ask victims to redirect the funds to them or at an associate to whom they purportedly owe money. In a similar scheme, scammers ask victims to reship packages instead of redirecting funds. In these examples, victims risk losing money and may incur other expenses, such as bank fees and penalties, and in some instances face prosecution.

Tips for Avoiding Romance Scams:

  • Be careful what you post and make public online. Scammers can use details shared on social media and dating sites to better understand and target you.
  • Research the person’s photo and profile using online searches to see if the image, name or details have been used elsewhere.
  • Go slowly and ask lots of questions.
  • Beware if the individual seems to perfect or quickly asks you to leave a dating service or social media site to communicate directly.
  • Beware if the individual attempts to isolate you from friends and family or requests inappropriate photos or financial information that could later be used to extort you.
  • Beware if the individual promises to meet in person, but then always comes up with an excuse why he or she can’t. If you haven’t met the person after a few months, for whatever reason, you have good reason to be suspicious.
  • Never send money to anyone you have only communicated with online or by phone.

If you have been victimized by a confidence fraud—or any cyber fraud—you can report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center at www.ic3.gov.

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