Social Security scams have become an epidemic, government says: Internet Scambusters #865
Pretending to be from the IRS is getting tougher for scammers -- so they've switched their attention to Social Security.
In fact, Social Security impersonations have moved into the top slots among impostor scams.
We'll explain what the crooks are up to in this week's issue - and tell you about 10 things you can do to avoid the scammers.
Let's get started...
Social Security Tricks Hit Top of Scams List
Social Security imposter scams have now reached epidemic proportions in the US, outstripping IRS impersonation scams for the first time, according to the federal government.
Some 76,000 complaints valuing losses at more than $19 million were filed in the 12 months prior to April 2019. The comparable IRS sum was $17 million.
But it gets worse. Almost half of those complaints came in the final two months of that period, signaling criminal activity on a huge and growing scale. That can only happen because the scams actually work.
And that $19 million accounts for a tiny 3.4 percent of the complaints. The rest relate to reports of Social Security number (SSN) thefts, which can subsequently be used for identity theft.
The median or midpoint among individual losses comes out at around $1,500 per victim, which is about four times the amount lost in other types of fraud.
An indication of the scale comes from the 55+ age group organization AARP. Its director of fraud victim services says a massive 94 percent of calls to its Helpline are about Social Security scams.
The current main scam comes in a call from an impostor claiming the victim's SSN has been used in a crime and so it has been suspended. Sometimes, they already have the individual's SSN. If not, they ask for it as "confirmation."
Pay a Fee
Then, in order to reactivate or unfreeze the account, the victim will have to pay a fee, usually in gift cards or a virtual currency like Bitcoin.
Often, crooks also doctor your caller ID so it looks like the call is genuinely coming from the Social Security Administration (SSA).
The calls may also be automated (robocalls) but invite recipients to "press 1" to speak to an SSA official.
This can all seem pretty convincing except for one major factor - the SSA does not suspend Social Security numbers. Period. Nor do they call and demand money. So, if you get one of these calls, you can safely hang up.
Other variations of Social Security scam tricks aimed at stealing your info include calls or emails saying that you're entitled to a refund; you need to "update your account information"; the SSA computers are down; you need to enroll in a new program; they need you to answer some security questions such as giving your mother's maiden name.
It's all about identity theft.
Snail Mail Version
Another scam even arrives by regular snail mail. It's a letter that offers additional security for your Social Security account - but, of course, there's a form to fill in with all your personal info.
Right now, there's an additional scam threat to Social Security recipients. Due to an oversight, the SSA actually "forgot" to deduct Medicare-related premiums from 250,000 Social Security payments for the first five months of this year. Yes, they really did this.
That means, you may get a bill from a Medicare Advantage or drug plan insurer for the outstanding sums. But because the issue is potentially confusing, scammers will almost certainly use it to try to lever more money out of older folk.
If you get one of these bills, verify that the money genuinely hasn't been deducted from your Social Security check. Then download this explanation of what to do from Medicare.
Here are some other things to know to avoid falling victim to this scam:
- Note that the SSA never emails requests for personal information.
- Nor does it visit homes without making a prior appointment.
- Never provide personal, financial and other confidential information in response to an unsolicited call. Any such request is a scam.
- Don't wire money to someone you don't know, even if they say they're from the SSA.
- Don't be fooled by callers who already have your SSN or the last four numbers.
- Don't trust your caller ID.
- Ignore phone threats. That's not the way government departments operate.
- Securely protect and store your SSN and card.
- If you're in any way concerned the call might be genuine, call the SSA on 1-800-772-1213 or 1-800-269-0271 -- or contact your local Social Security office.
- Stay in touch and learn about the latest tricks from Scambusters - and please share this report with friends and family.
Alert of the Week
The 419 Nigerian scam is alive and well. You remember; it's that email from a prince or government official who wants your help to smuggle money out of the country.
The past few months have seen a surge in this scam (which asks you for cash first so the big money can be sent to you).
This time, however, the scam comes in the form of a letter from a bank executive somewhere in Europe pretending to be executor of a will from someone who shares your last name and who recently died in a tragic accident.
The bad news is that your inheritance doesn't exist. The good news is that you didn't lose a relative in a recent accident!
That's it for today -- we hope you enjoy your week!