Social security imposter scam generates 35,000 complaints

Created date

February 15th, 2019
Senior Scams Prevention Act has been introduced in the Senate. If passed, the bill would create a federal advisory council to develop educational materials for retailers, financial institutions, and wire transfer companies.

From all reports, the scam business is thriving. For example, in 2017, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received 3,200 complaints about social security imposter scams. In 2018, the number of similar complaints grew to over 35,000 and accounted for an over $10 million-plus loss for American consumers.

The scam goes something like this. An unsuspecting consumer receives a telephone call. The caller ID says the call is from the Social Security Administration (SSA). It might even reveal the agency’s actual phone number. That bit of information is often the difference between someone answering the call or declining it. However, that caller ID display is not entirely reliable. Unscrupulous scammers can generate any number they desire on that display. And they know people are more likely to answer a call from an official government number.

The caller might tell you that your social security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity. He may say your number has been linked to a crime involving drugs or illegally transferring money out of the country. In the most recent version of this scam, the caller will pinpoint the location of that crime to Texas.

In another version of the scam, the caller says your social security number was used to apply for credit cards, thus jeopardizing your bank account. To protect your money, he instructs you to withdraw all your money to keep it safe.

Not surprisingly, the scam ends with the purported social security employee giving you very specific instructions about purchasing gift cards and then sharing the codes on those cards with him—so he can monitor activity on the cards. While it may seem farfetched, keep in mind this type of scam robbed American consumers of more than $10 million last year.

How to protect yourself

Here are some things you can do to protect yourself from these sinister scams:

1. Don’t trust your caller ID display. Keep your guard up until you’re certain you’re speaking to someone credible.

2. Don’t be surprised that the caller knows a lot about you, including your social security number. In today’s digital world, getting these numbers and other similar information is ridiculously easy for those who know where to look.

3. The SSA will never call you to say your account is about to be suspended or that your bank account is about to be seized.

4. The SSA will never call to demand that you wire money or send them gift card codes. Anyone who does this is a scammer.

5. If someone calls you for any reason, don’t give them all or part of your social security number over the phone.

If you receive a call like this, hang up and then call the real SSA at 1-800-772-1213 to tell them about your experience. You should also contact the Federal Trade Commission to file a complaint (ftc.gov/complaint).

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