There’s a new phone-based scam making the rounds that you need to be aware of. In this case, the scammers are spoofing the number of the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of the Inspector General’s hotline (HHS-OIG), which is in place to allow people to call in and report suspected cases of fraud or abuse in a variety of programs the department oversees.

According to a potential victim’s Caller ID, the number that comes up is the HHS-OIG, and the scammer on the other end of the line pretends to be an employee from that office. The details vary from one call to the next, but invariably, the subject of the call turns quickly to the idea that the person receiving the call is eligible for government grant money as a reward for paying their taxes on time, and all the caller needs is to verify a bit of personal information.

Step one of the scam is, of course, to get the caller to reveal as much personal information as possible. If that ploy is successful, then the scammer moves to Phase II, which is to get the victim to agree to send money via Western Union (usually to the tune of about $250) to set the receipt of the free money in motion.

Thus far, the scam has only convinced a few dozen people to actually send money, but hundreds have fallen for it long enough to give out a variety of personal information before becoming suspicious and hanging up.

There are two points of particular interest here. Firstly, this kind of scam is becoming increasingly popular, although this is the first time that a watchdog agency like HHS-OIG has been spoofed. Secondly, the OIG’s hotline does not make any outbound calls. The entire purpose of the hotline is to receive tips about suspected fraudulent activity.

In any case, the new scam underscores the importance of being extremely mindful about who you give out personal information to, because the person on the other end may or may not be who they say they are. If you have any doubts, the best approach is to ask for a callback number and phone them back, or failing that, simply hang up.

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