Illegal activity! Compromised! Fraudulent use! Suspended! Canceled! Revoked! Used for tax purposes! Illegal action filed! All of these terms have been used in the latest telephone scam sweeping our area and the nation.
Since the middle of November our office has taken more than 140 phone calls, most from seniors, saying that they’d received phone calls from someone claiming to represent the U.S. government. The calls allege the seniors’ Social Security account was at risk. In several instances the caller identified themselves as Lt. Dorothy Gomez of Texas or as an agent for the “Department of Social Security” (by the way, there is no Department of Social Security. It’s the Social Security Administration).
The calls, all using one or more of the ominous terms listed above, have two goals — to frighten the victim enough to “verify” vital Social Security information or convince them to send money to pay bogus fines and penalties in order to avoid arrest and prosecution. The callers threaten and bully. If they sense uncertainty from the victims, they apply even more pressure. The scammers hope their frightening story is enough to override the good sense of the victim.
It’s easy to understand why any retiree or other person could become nervous by a phone call, whether with a live person or a message, saying: “We have suspended your Social Security number for fraudulent activity on your account. Please call this number…”. For many, it’s a peril they can’t afford to ignore. Social Security represents a major portion of retirees’ incomes — 48 percent of married couples incomes and 69 percent of unmarried persons.
According to the AARP Fraud Watch Network, Social Security imposter complaints over the past few months outnumber those of the old IRS scam! This is a very scary development. According to the office of the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, since 2013 when the IRS scam began, it has enabled scammers to steal more than $73.6 million from nearly 15,000 victims through late November 2018! Now, in addition to the IRS phone scam, retirees and others need to be aware that fake phone calls could be coming from someone pretending to be from the Social Security Administration.
Technology has helped scammers tremendously. They can now spoof caller IDs to make it appear as if the phone call is from a local or other legitimate number. These hucksters have even spoofed the 800 number of the Social Security Administration! Technology also allows scammers to make millions of robocalls, searching until they get someone to send money or give them personal information.
Here are some things to remember if you get one of these phone calls:
• Social Security doesn’t make threatening phone calls stating your account or benefits will be terminated.
• Social Security won’t demand immediate action or payment. They will send you a bill first.
• Never give out your personal information over the phone. Do not verify it either. Social Security already has your number.
• If pressured, simply hang up or tell them you’ll contact Social Security directly to verify their phone call. Then hang up!
• Never call a number the caller may have furnished you. They would just be directing you to another scammer.
• If you receive a dubious phone call from someone alleging to be from the Social Security Administration, report it to the Office of the Inspector General for Social Security at 800–269–0271 or to the BBB (www.bbb.org/scamtracker).
Given how important Social Security is, it shouldn’t be surprising scammers want to weasel their way to your personal information and money. By knowing how con artists work, it’s easier for you to be on guard if they target you.
Cheryl Parson is president of the Better Business bureau serving West Central Ohio. The BBB may be found on the Internet at www.lima.bbb.org.