Don’t be fooled by social security fraudsters

Created date

May 17th, 2019

You’ve probably heard about telephone imposter scams in which con artists claim to be Internal Revenue Service (IRS) representatives. They tell people they owe taxes and convince them to wire money or put funds on a prepaid debit card by telling them they’ll be arrested if they don’t pay immediately. Since 2013, about 5,000 victims have lost over $26.5 million as a result of these IRS scams.

And now, the Federal Trade Commission is warning people about a new wave of scams in which fraudsters pose as Social Security Administration (SSA) officials in order to get unsuspecting people to give them money (see “Social security imposter scam generates 35,000 complaints,” March Tribune).

“In the past few months, the FTC’s Consumer Sentinel Network database has seen SSA imposter reports skyrocket while reports of IRS imposters have declined sharply,” FTC officials said in a statement in April. “In the shady world of government imposters, the SSA scam may be the new IRS scam.”

Similar to the IRS scams

These social security scammers rely on similar methods as the IRS con artists. They often use robocalls to contact people, telling them their social security number has been suspended because of suspicious activity. Once the scammers have people’s attention, they may ask them to confirm their social security number or they may instruct them to put money on gift cards for “safekeeping.”

“You may be told to ‘press 1’ to speak to a government ‘support representative’ for help reactivating your social security number,” the FTC warned. “They also use caller ID spoofing to make it look like SSA really is calling. With such trickery, these scammers are good at convincing people to give up their social security numbers and other personal information.”

The new social security scams have made a big impact in a short period of time. From April 2018 to April 2019, over 76,000 reports of these scams were filed and $19 million of losses were reported. While those losses are significant, only 3.4% of people who reported being contacted by a social security scammer lost money, with older adults and young people reporting losses at similar rates.

“Most people we hear from are just worried because they believe a scammer has their social security number,” FTC officials said. “But when people do lose money, they lose a lot: the median individual reported loss last year was $1,500, four times higher than the median individual loss for all frauds.”

The most common way victims send money to the fraudsters is by giving them the PIN numbers on the back of gift cards. In other cases, people took money out of their bank accounts and deposited the cash into Bitcoin ATMs.

“With both methods, the scammer gets quick cash while staying anonymous, and the money people thought they were keeping safe is simply gone,” according to the FTC.

There are some ways you can avoid falling prey to these social security scams. The FTC says not to trust your caller ID because scammers may be able to use numbers that look like the agency’s real telephone number. Don’t give your social security number to anyone who calls you. If you want to find out if the Social Security Administration is actually trying to reach you, call the agency directly at 1-800-772-1213.