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The 4 P’s of an Imposter Scam

Imposter Scams

Join the cause to prevent fraud on National “Slam the Scam” Day, March 7

Imposter scams fall into one of the biggest categories of financial fraud, according to statistics. In this type of fraud, a criminal contacts you and says (deceitfully) that they are from your bank, credit card company, or a government agency, such as the IRS.

The imposter then uses a variety of approaches and tactics to not only fool you (their target), but also to convince you there is a problem that must be resolved…right away. It’s a very effective scheme and one that causes billions of dollars in consumer losses every year.

Social Security Administration

Fraudsters often pretend they’re from the Social Security Administration (SSA) in order to target senior citizens who might be living alone and are not aware of imposter scams or how they work. And, of course, to steal as much money from them as they can.

Slam the Scam! May 7, 2024

One day each year, the Social Security Administration runs a campaign to raise awareness of consumer fraud, especially regarding Social Security–related scams.

Their “Slam the Scam” Day campaign provides resources for consumers and organizations to educate the public and provide resources for victims of fraud.

In actuality, the SSA provides anti-fraud resources year-round for consumers, such as this report entitled “Protect Yourself from Scams,” which you can find at

Another one of their ongoing resources is “Scam Alerts,” which are short and helpful bulletins that provide advice to help people stay alert and safe.

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The 4 P’s of Imposter Scams.

In one of their Scam Alerts for the 2024 campaign, the SSA covered the tactics that con artists use in their effort to scare, trick, and ensnare victims.

We call them the 4 P’s of an imposter scam. Here they are:

  1. PRETENDING to be someone important. This is, of course, at the heart of the imposter scam—the thief claims to be a representative of an organization that the targeted individual is familiar with. The crook may be able to “spoof” a phone number, disguise an email address or even show fake ID through photos. It’s all part of pretending to be someone they are not—someone with supposed authority.
  2. Presenting a PROBLEM. Why would the Social Security Administration or your bank contact you out of the blue? Only if there is a problem, you would think, but that thinking is wrong. Why? Because the SSA does not reach out to people with the goal of presenting and resolving problems in one email, phone call or text. Therefore, if you get a call from someone who says they’re from your bank, or from your credit card company, or the IRS or SSA, it’s likely not true.
  3. Applying PRESSURE. If the scammer senses you’re concerned about the supposed problem, they will apply pressure to get you to act immediately. If you’re slow to react, they may apply more pressure (with threats, perhaps) to scare you into becoming more concerned, worried, and vulnerable. Using pressure is a common and highly effective element of an imposter scam.
  4. Having you PAY in an unusual way. Most imposter scams involve getting you to pay for something for some reason. The thief may say it’s for overdue taxes, fees or fines, or an emergency deposit to stop fraud. However, they can’t have you pay in a way that traces back to them, so they may have you make wire transfers, send cash by Fed Ex, or have you buy and send gift cards. In real life, you likely NEVER make transactions like that, so why would do so now?
Phone scammers

The red flags of a scam.

Each of the 4 P’s of an imposter scam can, on their own, be a warning sign of a potential scam. That is, you might at first think you’re talking to someone from your bank, but the second they mention some problem with an account, or say you need to make a payment, the scam is easier to spot and avoid.

Awareness is key.

Keep this one fact in mind and you’ll likely be prepared: Most organizations rarely reach out to consumers, customers, or members. Also, when they do, it’s usually with a plain, routine message (change of terms, a sale, etc.) and not an urgent problem.

Follow the Easy Prey Podcast.

Awareness of the 4 P’s and of scammers’ tricks drastically reduces your chances of becoming a victim. All of us are potential targets of a scam, but being scam-savvy prevents us from becoming victims. For more insights into scam awareness, visit and follow the Easy Prey Podcast, hosted by Chris Parker.

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