Remember the days before Caller ID when you’d wonder who was calling? In some ways, those days are back. Technology now allows criminals to display whatever they want in your Caller ID window. A call might appear to be coming from your local police department, your bank, the FBI or the IRS. In recent years this has led to thousands of Americans falling victim to phone-based scams.
One recent phone scam that seems to be making the rounds is the Social Security scam. "SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION" often appears in your Caller ID display, making the call seem legitimate. The caller tells you that your Social Security payments have been suspended and you need to provide your Social Security Number (SSN) and other personal information and your bank account or credit card number to pay a fee that will enable you to start receiving them again.
While the primary targets of these scams are senior citizens, these criminals are willing to target anyone they believe is vulnerable, regardless of their age or marital status.
If you’ve been a target of this scam you’re not alone. According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2018 more than 35,000 people reported Social Security scams, with more than $10 million stolen from people who fell for them.
How Social Security scams work
Most of these scams are designed to convince you to provide your SSN and a few other pieces of personal information that enable identity thieves to open credit card accounts in your name or access your existing accounts. But some don’t stop there. They want to steal your money and will use a variety of ingenious schemes to try to cheat you.
- They tell you that your Social Security checks have been stopped due to fraud but you can reactivate payments by going to a bogus web site and providing your SSN and bank account information.
- They’ll offer you the “opportunity” to resume your payments by paying a “re-activation fee” if you send them money via a wire transfer or give them your credit card number.
- Some enterprising criminals will "allow" you to pay these fees by purchasing online gift cards and sending them the redemption codes.
Why these calls sometimes seem legitimate
Once you pick up the phone, criminals know how to exploit human emotions to make these calls seem credible.
- The scammer identifies you by name and mentions a few publicly available personal details that make it sound like they’re referring to “official” government records.
- The scammer speaks in a highly professional tone of voice.
- Their tone is friendly at first but gradually becomes colder and more threatening as they try to exploit your fears and wear down your resistance.
Don’t fall for it
If “SOCIAL SECURITY ADMINISTRATION” and/or its official phone number, 1-800-772-1213, appear in your Caller ID display, don’t answer it. If the Social Security Administration really needs to contact you, they’ll generally do it first by mail and then ask you to call them. If you’re unsure, call the Social Security Administration at the number above if you think there is a genuine problem. You call also report suspected scam attempts by calling the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271 or reporting them online at https://www.ssa.gov/fraudreport/oig/public_fraud_reporting/form.htm
Remember that no legitimate federal or state government agency will ever ask for your SSN or confidential banking or financial information over the phone.
If the caller asks for this kind of information hang up immediately.
If you inadvertently fall for any phone scam
The worst thing you can do is to do nothing. It’s critical for you to keep identity thieves from using your stolen information to threaten your financial security.
- Contact your bank, credit card providers, financial institutions and financial advisors immediately to let them know what happened and ask for their advice on next steps you can take to secure your accounts or close them.
- Contact the three main credit reporting agencies—Experian, Equifax and Transunion—to report a fraud alert or request a credit freeze, options that may make it difficult for scammers to open new credit card accounts using your stolen information. Read our Insights article to learn more about these credit protection options.
- Visit the FTC’s Identity Theft web site at https://www.identitytheft.gov/ to report what happened and get a suggested recovery plan.
Hiding behind a bogus Caller ID identity and a professional sounding voice is a criminal who is relishing the opportunity to take advantage of your trust. The best way to keep from falling victim to any kind of phone-based scam is to remain skeptical when you receive unexpected calls.
Michael Flaherty is a financial advisor located at Canby Financial Advisors, 161 Worcester Road, Framingham, MA 01701. He offers securities and advisory services as an Investment Adviser Representative of Commonwealth Financial Network®, Member FINRA/SIPC, a Registered Investment Adviser. He can be reached at 508.598.1082 or [email protected]
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