USA TODAY US Edition

Beware new Social Security scam

- Susan Tompor Columnist USA TODAY

So you just got a text from Social Security and the guy even tried to reassure you that he’s the real deal by texting you a picture of his badge.

Should you feel that things are on the up-and-up and respond?

The scammers who are out to steal your Social Security number and your money now have a new game going. They’re not just spoofing phone numbers out of Washington. They’re now impersonat­ing someone from Social Security by sending photos of government badges.

The crooks have created fake versions of ID badges that many federal employees use to gain access to federal buildings.

“The scammers play on emotion, generally fear, to get people to act without thinking,” Social Security Administra­tion Commission­er Andrew Saul said in a press call Wednesday.

He said it’s essential that people simply hang up and not even engage with the caller. Don’t let anyone threaten you or harass you into thinking that your Social Security number is connected to a criminal investigat­ion.

Social Security isn’t going to call to threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. But scammers make such calls every hour on the hour.

CVS shoppers might have even heard in-store announceme­nts lately from the Social Security Administra­tion to warn them about such scams.

Walmart and Home Depot participat­ed in the latest awareness campaign, too. You don’t want to buy a gift card – and then read off the card numbers to someone on the phone who claims to be from law enforcemen­t or Social Security.

In some cases, your caller ID may show the real SSA phone number – 800-772-1213 – when the scammers call. But again, the con artists are able to spoof this number and make it look more legitimate.

Consumers continue to get alarming phone calls from someone who claims to be from law enforcemen­t or Social Security. The caller then may try to scare you into thinking that your Social Security number has been connected to running drugs and money laundering across the border.

The crooks use a variety of tactics, including rattling off a “badge number” of law enforcemen­t officers, sending email attachment­s containing personal informatio­n about an “investigat­ion” and texting links to click on and “learn more” about a Social Securityre­lated problem.

The Federal Trade Commission advises:

h Do not trust caller ID. Scam calls may show up on caller ID as the Social Security Administra­tion and look like the agency’s real number, but it’s not the SSA calling.

h Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.

Don’t verify your Social Security number or any other personal informatio­n to anyone who calls out of the blue. If you already did, visit IdentityTh­eft.gov/SSA to find out what steps to take now.

h If you believe you or someone you know is a victim of elder fraud, file a complaint with the Federal Trade

“The scammers play on emotion, generally fear, to get people to act without thinking.” Andrew Saul Social Security Administra­tion Commission­er

Commission online at www.ftccomplai­ntassistan­t.gov or call 877-3824357.

In 2020, the Social Security Administra­tion received more than 730,000 scam complaints – with victim losses hitting more than $59 million.

Only about 1.5% of the people who reported a scam to Social Security alleged they had lost money. The average for those who did claim to lose cash was $6,100.

The Office of the Inspector General for the Social Security Administra­tion notes: “If you ever owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights. Social Security does not suspend Social Security numbers or demand secrecy from you in resolving a problem – ever.”

One criminal out of suburban Chicago ran a telemarket­ing scheme where callers falsely claiming to be from the Social Security Administra­tion and U.S. Department of Justice told people their identity had been stolen.

To get out of the mess, the ID victim was to transfer money to various bank accounts, which later supposedly would be paid back.

An elderly woman from Massachuse­tts ended up transferri­ng more than $900,000 from her bank and retirement accounts to scammers.

Hirenkumar P. Chaudhari, 27, of Des Plaines, Illinois, pleaded guilty on Jan. 6 to one count of money laundering, according to the U.S. Attorney’s Office of the Northern Illinois District. Chaudhari allegedly used a phony Indian passport and false names to open those bank accounts.

“They get kept on the phone for hours, if not days, at a time,” said Gail S. Ennis, inspector general for the Social Security Administra­tion.

The same set of scammers may even pretend to be from different agencies and make a string of calls to the same victim.

While some victims are elderly, Ennis said, the scammers are reaching out to all age groups.

“They’re not targeting,” she said. “They are merely robodialin­g.”

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