Everybody knows who Uncle Sam is, don’t they? Usually the first thing that comes to mind is the image of a stern gentleman, dressed in red, white and blue, wearing a top hat, pointing, saying, “I want you!” He is the national personification of the U.S. government and its agencies.
But now days, scammers posing as U.S. government agencies are pointing your way, saying, “I want your money!” A directive was released last week by the Federal Trade Commission, warning consumers that complaints to the FTC about scammers pretending to be from the government are at record high levels. In May alone, the FTC received 46,600 complaints from consumers who were contacted by someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, Internal Revenue Service or other government entity.
Roughly six percent of consumers reported they lost money. When they did, it was a significant amount, with a median total of $960. Of note, consumers under the age of 60 reported losing money at higher rates than consumers over that age. while consumers over 60 were victims less often, the over 60s group’s median losses were higher and increased with age.
The four leading government impostor scams are:
1. Social Security Administration - An impostor contacts the victim with a phone call saying, “We have suspended your Social Security number for fraudulent activity on your account,” or something similar, using terms such as canceled, revoked, compromised, illegal action, or fraudulent use to frighten victims enough to give up vital Social Security information or convince them to send money to pay bogus fines and penalties in order to avoid arrest and prosecution.
2. Fake Medicare - Identity thieves target Medicare recipients to obtain Medicare information, money or other personal and banking information. Scammers use several ploys to obtain information, in some cases claiming the new Medicare cards sent out last year need to be verified, requiring the victim to provide the last four digits of their Social Security number, or they will be charged a fee. Sometimes the scammers promise free services or equipment, such as a back brace or neck brace, in exchange for the victim furnishing Medicare information.
3. IRS Impostors - The IRS scams are some of the most successful frauds ever perpetrated. Taxpayers have become more savvy and aware of these scams, knowing the IRS will never call to demand immediate payment over the phone, nor will it call about taxes owed without first having mailed a bill. Ever resourceful, scammers are now trying to trick taxpayers by sending a letter first.
4. Health and Human Services Government Grants - Impostors send text or phone messages imitating the HHS Hotline number, posing as Hotline employees. Most often scammers reel in victims by informing them they have qualified or have been approved for a grant the victim has never applied for. The con artists goal is to steal money or commit other fraudulent activity under the victim’s name. The HHS Hotline does not make outgoing calls, so should you receive a call from 1-800-HHS-TIPS (1-800-447-8477), hang up immediately.
Follow these easy guidelines:
• Hang up if someone calls claiming to be from Medicare, Social Security, HHS, or the IRS, it’s a scam. NEVER give your Social Security number, Medicare number, bank or other personal data information.
• If in doubt, verify the authenticity of the call yourself by making a call to the supposed government agency.
Protect yourself, even if you’re supposedly communicating with one of good old Uncle Sam’s agencies. As a security expert said in a recent article about the current uptick in government impostor scams, “It may be summertime, but that doesn’t mean scammers are on vacation.”
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.