Telephone and government imposter scams

Telephone Scams

Criminals use the phone to commit many different types of fraud, including lottery frauds, sweepstakes fraud, and other types of scams. Telephone scammers are good at what they do. They say anything to try to cheat people out of money. The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department wants you to know about the latest telephone scam that can leave you with high phone bills.

It begins by the victim receiving a call from someone claiming to be with a sheriff’s department or other public safety agency. They may make up a story saying that a family member has been incarcerated or involved in an accident. The victim is then instructed to call a number that beings with *72 (example: *72-323-555-1212) to get the information they will need. Do not do this!

When one dials that number they are told it’s a wrong number. What really happens when you use the prefix *72, you automatically forward all incoming calls to the scammer’s phone number, which includes collect calls from inmates who want to avoid paying for collect calls. The billing for these forwarded calls goes to the victim caller until they turn off call forwarding on their phone (usually by dialing *73).

Victims can be scammed out of a lot of money in collect-call fees before they find out. If you have been involved in this scam and you already dialed a number beginning with *72, contact your phone service provider to dispute the charges and to learn how to shut off automatic call forwarding and report it to the California Public Utilities Commission’s consumer hotline at 800-649-7570. For more information, visit the California Public Utilities Commission’s website.

Social Security and other government imposter scams

Government imposter scams are becoming more common. In 2021, the Federal Trade Commission received over 396,000 complaints about them, including more than $442 million lost to scammers.  

Be extra cautious when receiving calls from anyone claiming to be from a government agency.

Legitimate government agencies, such as the Social Security Administration will NEVER:

  • Threaten arrest or legal action if someone does not immediately send money to resolve an overpayment.
  • Promise to increase benefits or resolve identity theft issues for a fee or by moving money into a protected account.
  • Require payment with a retail gift card, prepaid debit card, cryptocurrency, wire transfer, internet currency, or by mailing cash.
  • Send text or email messages that contain personal information.

What you should do to protect yourself:

  • Hang up on suspicious calls from “government officials” calling about a problem with your Social Security number or account.
  • NEVER make payments with gift cards, wire transfers, or by mailing cash.
  • Report Social Security scams to OIG.SSA.GOV.
  • Report other scams to