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Complaints about fake Social Security calls up 1,000 percent

Federal officials report that at least $10 million has been stolen in 2018 by scammers posing as Social Security Administration employees.
Shauna Bittle | Sun-Times

Calls from scammers impersonating Social Security Administration officials threatening to take away benefits ballooned in 2018, with complaints increasing by almost 10 times.

About 35,000 consumers reported getting Social Security scam calls in 2018, up from 3,200 reports the previous year, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The FTC released audio of one of the scam calls, in which a computer-generated voice claims a person’s Social Security account will be suspended “on an immediate basis as we have received suspicious trails of information in your name.”

Video by Brian Ernst

It directs the victim to call a toll-free number immediately or face arrest.

In some versions of this scam, the con artist claims the person’s Social Security number has been linked to a drug or money laundering crime, or claims someone else has used the number to apply for a credit card.

The scammers ask the victim to confirm the number and send a fee to supposedly reactivate it or get a new number. Sometimes, the caller says the person’s bank account will be seized and offers instructions on how to withdraw the money and supposedly keep it safe.

Victims lose millions

As improbable as the scam may sound, the FTC says panicked victims have already lost $10 million just this year.

The scammers often spoof the real Social Security Administration’s phone number on the victim’s caller ID to make the con more believable, the FTC says.

The Social Security scam is similar to the fake IRS agent scam, which has hit taxpayers in recent years. In that scam, callers pretend they are from the IRS and say they need to collect back taxes.

The IRS says it will never call a taxpayer to demand immediate payment via a prepaid debit card, gift card or wire transfer – and it won’t threaten to have you arrested or deported, or have your driver’s license or business licenses taken away. If you owe taxes, the IRS will mail you a bill.

The FTC offers these tips:

  • Ignore the calls. Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended, and your bank accounts won’t be seized.
  • The Social Security Administration does not call people to threaten their benefits or demand money be wired or sent via cash or gift cards. Any such demand is a scam.
  • If you would like to speak to the Social Security Administration, you should make the call yourself to their real number, (800) 772-1213. (Be aware that scammers calling you can spoof this number on your caller ID.)
  • Never give out your Social Security number (even the last four digits) or your bank account number or your credit card number to someone who contacts you out of the blue.
  • Report scam calls to FTC.gov/complaint