Such schemes are variations on the classic impostor scam. The scammer variously poses as an official from a government agency or a company you do business with. Even your own grandchild may be impersonated. In each case the goal is the same: to get your money or personal information.
Perhaps the most frequent impostor scam involves email that purports to be from the IRS. Typically it asks you for personal information under the guise of getting a tax refund or "fixing" an improperly filed return.
The lessons of all these schemes: Never provide an upfront fee or personal information to anyone who comes to you unsolicited. If you think such a request might be real, first check out the claims by contacting the group that the person claims to represent. To do that, don't use any phone numbers or Web addresses that the person may provide — look them up yourself.
If you called the SIPC, a non-profit corporation chartered by Congress, you'd find out that it doesn't deal with investor fraud. If a brokerage firm fails, owing customers cash and securities that are missing from their accounts, SIPC acts as trustee or works with an independent court-appointed trustee in a brokerage insolvency case to recover funds.
And, says SIPC President Stephen Harbeck: "When the liquidation of a brokerage firm is handled by SIPC, investors with missing stocks or cash do not pay a fee for recovery of those assets."
If you think you've heard from an SIPC impostor, email the organization at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 202-371-8300.
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Sid Kirchheimer is the author of Scam-Proof Your Life, published by AARP Books/Sterling.