So you just got a text from Social Security and the guy even tried to reassure you that he’s the real deal by texting you a picture of his badge. Should you feel that things are on the up-and-up and respond?
The scammers who are out to steal your Social Security number and your money now have a new game going. They’re not just spoofing phone numbers out of Washington. They’re now impersonating someone from Social Security by sending photos of government badges.
The crooks have created fake versions of ID badges that many federal employees use to gain access to federal buildings.
“The scammers play on emotion, generally fear, to get people to act without thinking,” Social Security Administration Commissioner Andrew Saul said in a news call Wednesday.
He stressed it’s essential people simply hang up and not even engage with the caller. Don’t let anyone threaten you or harass you into thinking that somehow your Social Security number is connected to a criminal investigation.
Social Security isn’t going to call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash or put money on gift cards. But scammers make such threatening calls do every hour on the hour.
CVS shoppers might have even heard in-store announcements lately from the Social Security Administration to warn them about such scams.
Walmart and Home Depot participated in the latest awareness campaign, too. You don’t want to buy a gift card – and then read off the card numbers to someone on the phone who claims to be from law enforcement or Social Security.
In some cases, your caller ID may show the real SSA phone number – 800-772-1213 – when the scammers call. But again, the con artists are able to spoof this number and make it look more legitimate.
Consumers continue to get alarming phone calls from someone who claims to be from law enforcement or Social Security. The caller then may try to scare you into thinking that your Social Security number has been connected to running drugs and money laundering across the border.
The crooks use a variety of tactics to seem legitimate, including rattling off a “badge number” of law enforcement officers, sending email attachments containing personal information about an “investigation” and texting links to click on and “learn more” about a Social Security-related problem.
Federal Trade Commission advises:
• Do not trust caller ID. Scam calls may show up on caller ID as the Social Security Administration and look like the agency’s real number, but it’s not the SSA calling.
• Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.
• Don’t verify your Social Security number or any other personal information to anyone who calls out of the blue. If you already did, visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA to find out what steps to take now.
• If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, file a complaint with the Federal Trade Commission online at ftccomplaintassistant.gov or call 877-382-4357.
In 2020, the Social Security Administration received more than 730,000 scam complaints – with victim losses hitting more than $59 million.Only about 1.5% of the people who reported a scam to Social Security alleged they had lost money. The average loss for those who did claim to lose cash was $6,100.
The Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administration notes: “If you ever owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights. Social Security does not suspend Social Security numbers or demand secrecy from you in resolving a problem – ever.”
Successful scammers can steal hundreds of thousands of dollars.
One criminal out of suburban Chicago ran a telemarketing scheme where callers falsely claiming to be from the Social Security Administration and U.S. Department of Justice called people to say that their identity had been stolen.
To get out of the mess, somehow the ID victim was to transfer money to various bank accounts, which later supposedly would be paid back once the situation was resolved.
An elderly woman from Massachusetts ended up transferring a total of more than $900,000 from her bank and retirement accounts to scammers.
Hirenkumar P. Chaudhari, 27, of Des Plaines, Illinois, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to one count of money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern Illinois District. Chaudhari allegedly used a phony Indian passport and false names to open those bank accounts.
Many times, victims can be scared into taking one call after another from these scammers.
“They get kept on the phone for hours, if not days, at a time,” said Gail S. Ennis., inspector general for the Social Security Administration.
The same set of scammers may even pretend to be from different agencies and make a string of calls to the same victim.
While some victims are elderly, Ennis said, the scammers are reaching out to all age groups when they’re impersonating the Social Security Administration.
“They’re not targeting,” she said. “They are merely robo-dialing.”
An older person might lose more money to these scams simply because they’ve built up a lifetime of savings.
“A 20-year-old is not going to have a 401(k) that has $900,000 in it,” Ennis said.