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Fraud Watch Friday: New Social Security Scam

Close-up of social security cards
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The Social Security Administration is using new public service announcements to warn Americans about the increasing number of telephone scams and to advise what to do about them.

The number of such  telephone impostor scams has increased more than tenfold in recent years. Complaints about them jumped from 3,200 in 2017 to 35,000 in 2018, with financial loses increasing from $210,000 to $10 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The PSAs are  60-second30-second and  15-second warnings for airing on TV and radio.

The scams are variations of  fraudsters impersonating SSA employees. The ploys range from telling a victim that his or her Social Security number has been suspended and requesting that number to threatening arrest if a victim doesn’t place money on a gift card and give the fraudster the gift card number. The victim is, in effect, held hostage over the phone, while the scammer asks, “Are you buying the gift card?”

Another version of the scam threatens the victim with arrest if he or she does not return the scammer’s phone call. Finally, some impersonation phone calls tell victims they will receive greater Social Security benefits if they pay a fee to the scammer.

The fraudsters may use SSA’s 1-800-772-1213 number on caller ID as part of their scam.

The best strategy is to avoid the scammers altogether.

“What we really want is for people to hang up the phone,” says Andrew Cannarsa, a spokesman for the SSA Office of the Inspector General.

Other advice:

  • Never give out your Social Security number to anyone who telephones claiming to be from SSA: Agency employees do not telephone consumers; notifications generally are sent by postal mail or to your email, if you have created a My Social Security account.
  • Never place money on a gift card; the SSA does not ask anyone for gift cards.
  • Report any suspicious scam calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General, 1-800-269-0271.
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