Social Security scammers use new trick to fool victims: Internet Scambusters #1,046
Crooks can buy your Social Security number for a few dollars or even steal it for free - but it could cost you a small fortune and sleepless nights.
And they're getting smarter at convincing victims they're genuine by using doctored photos of genuine government employees and forging official documents.
In this week's issue, we'll explain their latest tricks and what you can do to protect yourself.
Let's get started…
How Doctored Photos Help Social Security Scammers
How much is your Social Security number worth? Actually, it only costs $4 to buy a stolen SSN on the dark web. Or it's free to them if they steal it. But the cost to the victim could be astronomical.
Your number is actually one of the most valuable pieces of information for identity thieves. If they get ahold of it, they can use it to take out loans in your name, damaging your credit reputation, and potentially costing you a lot more.
They might also use it to access your banking and other confidential information, which require the last 4 digits of the SSN, to steal health records and passwords or commit several other crimes by passing themselves off as you.
And then there's the terrible stress of trying to sort out the mess that usually follows in the wake of identity theft. It's almost unbearable to think about.
Over the holiday season, the US Social Security Administration (SSA) issued a new alert about imposter scams - people claiming to be from the organization both to find out that precious number or frighten victims into paying money they don't owe.
They're particularly worried because crooks have stepped up their game by using fake identity evidence aimed at convincing victims - especially elders - that they're the real thing.
They're emailing and texting doctored photos of genuine government employees and forged official documents to hoodwink their targets.
Many of the scams originate overseas and the situation is so worrying that the Department of Justice recently announced it was beefing up its Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force to help tackle Social Security imposter scams from abroad.
The villains usually call victims using a spoofed phone number or send forged documents, making them appear to come from the SSA. Sometimes they even turn up at your front door. And if you challenge them, they present fake photo IDs using images of real government employees.
They may say the individual's SSN has been suspended because of suspicious activity or that there's some other problem. Or they claim the victim has been overpaid or otherwise owes them money, which must be paid immediately.
In some cases, they've been known to tell the victim that the security problem could give someone access to their bank account and recommend that it's moved into a supposed "safe" account from which the scammer draws down.
Most recently, security experts say scammers have been pretending to be from the "customer service" department within the SSA to sell products or services. For instance, they say a victim's number has "expired" and that they need to pay for a new card. They may claim there's a new enrollment program for other family members, which again has to be paid for, or demand a fee for an individual to access their own Social Security records.
In most cases, these services either don't exist or they're already available free of charge from the SSA.
In another recently reported scam, crooks have been sending out letters that appear to come from the SSA, complete with logos and other official-looking information. The letters - sometimes also emails - tell recipients they're entitled to a cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) to their monthly payments but have to phone a toll-free number to activate it.
Once more, they'll be told they have to pay a fee for this service. In reality, these adjustments happen automatically. They don't have to be activated.
How to Avoid Social Security Scams
Often, the scammers threaten to freeze benefits, seize your bank account, take court action, impose fines or even jail time if the victim doesn't pay up - scare tactics that are especially effective against older folk.
The Social Security Administration says it "will never threaten, scare or pressure you to take immediate action," so if a call or message uses this approach, you'll know it's a scam.
Nor does the department request payments using untraceable methods such as mailing cash, cryptocurrencies, gift cards or money-wiring services.
Simply never give your full SSN over the phone or in response to unsolicited messages or requests for you to "confirm" it, though it's not uncommon for genuine organizations to ask for the last four digits.
Keep your card safe and protect your password if you use the SSA's website.
Moreover, never assume that just because someone already has your number, or they provide photos credentials, that they are genuinely from Social Security or any other organization they claim to work for.
If you do think you've been scammed, tell the SSA. There's an easy-to-complete reporting form on their site.
Finally, if you're worried or uncertain about any approach you've had from someone claiming to be from Social Security, or any other government department, contact the department via their real phone number or discuss the issue with someone you trust.
This Week's Scam Alerts
2023 outlook: The Internet Theft Resource Center (ITRC) warns that impersonation will be the big mover to drive growth of scams in the coming year, along with social media account takeovers and romance/dating scams. Other experts have said they expect to see a further sharp rise in the use of ransomware.
The Center also predicts an increase in con tricks and fraud targeting immigrants and ethnic minorities who don't have good command of English.
USPS trick: Ignore any text message you receive saying the United States Postal Service can't deliver a package because your address is incomplete. For instance, it may say they don't have your house number. Victims are told to call a toll-free number where they're asked to pay a $3 fee to update records, using a credit card. USPS doesn't operate this way and the crooks not only get your $3 but also your card number.
Pet threat: If you're a pet owner, beware of crooks claiming to be from your county or city animal service department claiming you owe them money from a past due fine. It's just the latest version of a longstanding scam in which crooks pretend to be from local courts or police to demand supposedly overdue payments.
Time to conclude for today -- have a great week!