Identify theft is a growing problem for consumers, and the latest tool in the scammers arsenal is the Social Security Phone Scam. Not only do the perpetrators aim to steal your Social Security number (and your identify), they also hope to steal your money in the process. The key to this scam is the use of spoofed phone numbers – making a call appear to be coming from the Social Security Administration (SSA) even though it’s not. This fools the unsuspecting consumers into thinking that the call is legitimate, and allows the caller to be successful.
Since January 2018, the Federal Trade Commission has received more than 63,000 reports about this scam. Only 3% of reporting call recipients lost money, but the losses total $16.6 million.
The Social Security scheme can take many forms, but in general here’s how it works:
- The victim receives a call from a spoofed phone number which appears to be the Social Security Administration (SSA)
- They are asked to provide their Social Security number for verification. This should always be a warning sign that something is wrong.
- They are told that their Social Security number has been “suspended” for some reason, possible because it has been linked to a crime.
- The caller claims that their bank accounts will be seized by the government unless they take action.
- The caller tells them to withdraw money and transfer the amount to gift cards. While they remain on the line, the consumer purchases the gift cards. Then the caller asks for the gift card numbers and PINs, supposedly for “safekeeping.”
- They also use fear — of arrest, loss of savings and, in some cases, deportation — and a sense of urgency to get the victim to respond.
With the stolen information, the fraudster uses the gift cards or sells them on the black market. The stolen Social Security number is often further used to steal their identity.
What You Should Know
The truth is that the Social Security Administration doesn’t suspend Social Security numbers, nor does it ask people for their numbers over the phone. In fact, it is rare to get a phone call from the SSA unless you are already dealing with them on another matter. No government entity would ask for payment in gift cards. This is a sure sign that the request is not legitimate. Criminals hope that you aren’t aware of these facts.
Fortunately, you can avoid becoming snared in a Social Security phone scam by following some simple guidelines:
- If you don’t recognize the number appearing on your caller ID, don’t answer the phone. Even if the call appears to be from a government agency, be suspicious.
- Install a spam call blocker, or robocall-blocker and use it for any calls that seem suspicious. These are also available for your mobile phone.
- If you inadvertently answer a spam call, hang up immediately. Block the caller on your mobile phone so they can’t try again.
- Never provide personal information, including bank account or Social Security numbers, to anyone over the phone.
- Report suspicious calls to ftccomplaintassistant.gov.
Note that it’s not just consumers who fall victim to phone fraud schemes. Fraudsters also target businesses to secure sensitive information such as bank account numbers, routing numbers and passwords. If you’re a business owner, educate employees about phone scams and implement fraud controls. Contact us for more information.