Evan Arnold-Gordon Golden Gate Better Business Bureau   Have you received a call from someone claiming to be from a government agency? Or perhaps you’ve received a suspicious looking...
Photo credit: Better Business Bureau

Evan Arnold-Gordon
Golden Gate Better Business Bureau


Have you received a call from someone claiming to be from a government agency? Or perhaps you’ve received a suspicious looking email from a household brand name? Impostor scams occur every day, so it’s important to know what’s real and what’s fake. A phone call or email may seem legitimate, but scammers depend on this confusion to trick consumers into giving away their money or personal information.

According to the 2018 Better Business Bureau (BBB) Scam Tracker Annual Risk Report, “‘impersonation’ is a very common tactic used by scammers. It’s where the scammer pretends to be a legitimate business that is well known and trusted by the consumer… While all scammers pretend to be some sort of legitimate operation by definition, this particular tactic is where the scammer pretends to be a known, trusted entity.”

Here are the most common legitimate organizations that were used for impersonation in 2018, according to BBB’s Risk Report:

  • The U.S. government. The IRS was the #1 most impersonated organization of 2018. BBB Scam Tracker received more than 3,600 tax collection scams in last year with consumers losing an average of $1,000. The U.S. Government in general was the #2 most impersonated organization with scammers pretending to be from the Treasury Department or Social Security. Scammers often claim you’re eligible for a free government grant and just need to pay upfront taxes to claim it. They may also pretend to be connected to Medicare and ask for personal information. Government grant scams were the #10 riskiest scam to consumers in 2018, according to the BBB Risk Index. Learn more at org/taxscams and
  • Publisher’s Clearing House. The third most impersonated organization is known to give away a lot of money. Scammers take advantage of this, and claim that you’ve won millions of dollars. Similar to a government grant scam, you just need to pay an upfront fee to receive your winnings. BBB received more than 2,000 Sweepstakes/lottery/prize scams reported to BBB Scam Tracker in 2018, with consumers primarily losing money through wire transfers. Learn more at org/prizescam.
  • Computer companies. In 2018, the fourth and fifth most impersonated legitimate organization were Microsoft and Apple respectively. According to BBB’s Risk Report, “Tech support scams start with a call or pop-up warning that alerts the target to a computer bug or other problem. Scammers posing as tech support employees of well-known tech companies hassle victims into paying for “support.” If the victim allows remote access, malware may be installed.” Learn more about the seventh riskiest scam to consumers at org/techsupportscam.
  • Online purchases. With more shopping done online than ever before, online shopping scams have seen an uptick and finished as the second riskiest scam last year. Amazon finished as the #6 most impersonated organization last year with more impersonation complaints than any other e-commerce website. Ray Ban was the 10th most impersonated organization in 2018 followed by Secret Shopper at number 14. Many of these scams are perpetrated through social media sites with a buyer making a purchase, but the item never arrives. Other times a person may sell an item online and receive a fake check. Online purchase scams were the number one scam for people between the ages of 35-44 and made up 20.6 percent of all scams reported last year.
  • Social media companies and banks. A scammer emails you claiming that there’s an issue with your online social media or banking account and prompts you to click on a link to fix it. This link will bring you to a look-a-like phishing sign-in page. If you enter your log-in information the scammer will also have access to your online account. The names of many of the organizations that comprise the remainder of the top 15 list are used in this way: Facebook (#9), PayPal (#12) and Bank of America (#13). Phishing scams was the second most reported scam to BBB Scam Tracker in 2018 – learn how to recognize and avoid them at org/phishingscam.
  • Better Business Bureau. Even your Better Business Bureau ranked as the 11th most impersonated organization of 2018. Many of these scams target small businesses. Scammers call to collect unpaid “dues” or email dangerous links or attachments that they claim are related to “complaints”. According to a March 2018 BBB press release on this subject, “while a BBB office may contact a business for a variety of reasons, you should never give personal or financial information over the phone during an unsolicited call from someone you do not know… End the call and call back through the number in your records or the number on the organization’s website.”

You can check out the full list of the most impersonated legitimate organizations at Make sure to report all scams to BBB Scam Tracker at