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Imposter scams are on the rise: Here’s how to manage the risks

As criminals impersonate trusted figures and set up fraudulent websites, education is the best defense


Key takeaways:

  • Education is the best defense against increasingly common imposter scams in which scammers may impersonate Merrill financial advisors.
  • If you receive an unexpected call, text or email from someone claiming to be a financial advisor — even your personal financial advisor — always verify the source using a known phone number, legitimate website, bill or statement.
  • Fraudulent websites can often be identified by poor design quality, grammatical errors, misspellings and urgent requests for contact or other information.
  • Be proactive by coordinating a mutually understood defense with your advisor.



As our daily reliance on digital communication steadily increases, scammers are evolving their tactics to exploit the trust we’ve built for online and other financial services. Imposter scams are on the rise and are currently the most commonly reported fraud, with approximately 985,000 complaints in 2021 according to the Federal Trade Commission. These types of scams cost victims more than $2.3 billion — double the 2020 total.1


Imposter scams typically begin with an anomalous email (commonly known as phishing), a phone call from a falsified number (vishing), an unsolicited text (smishing) or a social media message. The communications appear to be from trusted professionals such as financial advisors, lawyers or government officials — or family members or celebrities.2 To make them appear more authentic, the perpetrators may even pose as your personal Merrill advisor, or representatives of companies or charities you already have relationships with.


By creating fraudulent websites using legitimate information they’ve harvested from online sources, these scammers lure clients and potential prospects into providing confidential information with the intention of committing financial fraud.

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Warning signs to watch for

Recognizing that imposter scams exist and are increasing in prevalence may be the best defense against them. But beyond awareness, there are some common red flags that can help you identify these scams before you fall victim, including:


  • An urgent request to fill out a form with personal information that the advisor should already have if you’re a client or wouldn’t need if you’re a prospect
  • Poor website design quality, including odd layouts and low-resolution images or photos of the advisor
  • Grammatical errors, misspellings, awkward phrasing or misuse of investor terminology
  • A website domain that uses the name of the financial advisor rather than a reputable firm
  • A list of the advisor’s employees or examination history publicly on the site


Best practices to protect yourself and others

Imposter scams are successful because of how much legitimate information scammers can mine from publicly available information on the web, enabling them to convincingly impersonate a professional or simulate a professional’s website. But by following these best practices, you can protect yourself and others:


  • Verify all anomalous communications or requests for money or personal information by double-checking the sender information and by independently confirming the source using a verified phone number from an official website, bill or statement.
  • Don’t rely on caller ID to determine if a caller is legitimate.
  • Never send money to someone you don’t know, think you know or have only met online.
  • Never give sensitive information, such as your Social Security number, over the phone or through a website unless you are sure of who you’re interacting with.
  • Cut off contact at any point with someone you suspect is impersonating a professional.


In addition, being proactive and coming up with a mutually understood defense against imposter scams with your advisor and professional contacts can be an effective way to decrease your chances of falling victim.


For more information on this scam and others, visit the Merrill Security Center and read more about  how to avoid scams.


If you suspect you are a victim of fraud, contact us immediately at 1.800.MERRILL(637.7455) or speak to your financial advisor for further assistance.


Forward any suspicious email or text message to us at


Remember: Don’t transfer money as a result of an unexpected phone call or text. We will never ask you to send us personal information such as an account number, Social Security number or Tax ID over text, over email or online.


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1New Data Shows FTC Received 2.8 Million Fraud Reports from Consumers in 2021,” Federal Trade Commission, February 22, 2022

2 “Imposter Scams,” AARP, March 30, 2022


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