Sometimes a phone call will come in that is so obviously suspect people realize right away the caller is a seasoned scam artist.
But be forewarned, as attorney generals across the country and many other agencies repeatedly caution: some callers are sophisticated con men who are experts at separating people from their hard-earned money.
The Federal Trade Commission warned about a growing scheme that has been making rounds the past few weeks.
Callers pretend to be from the United States Social Security Administration, and try to get your Social Security number or your money. That scam is now growing exponentially. In 2017, we heard from 3200 people about Social Security imposter scams, and those people reported losing nearly $210,000. That, as it turned out, was the tip of the iceberg.
The ominous phone caller, a male, begins speaking in slow, measured voice: “Enforcement agencies will suspend your Social Security number on an immediate basis as we have received suspicious trails of information in your name. The moment you receive this message, get back to me on my department-issued toll-free number, 888-952-5554. Verify the last four digits of your Social Security number when you call to better assist you with this issue now. A warrant for your arrest will be issued under your name.”
According to the Federal Trade Commission’s Assistant Director of Consumer and Business Education, Jennifer Leach, the real goal is to engage you in conversation and extract information from you.
“Sometimes, the scammer wants you to confirm your Social Security number to reactivate it,” Leach said. “Sometimes, he’ll say your bank account is about to be seized — but he’ll tell you what to do to keep it safe. Often, that involves putting your money on gift cards and giving him the codes — which, of course, means that your money is gone.”
Oh, and your caller ID often shows the real Social Security Administration phone number — 1-800-772-1213 — when these scammers call, but they’re faking the number.
On a related front, open enrollment season for Medicare recipients is underway, and so are those related phone scams. Recipients must decide what type of plan he or she wants, or can make changes to existing plans through Medicare or the Affordable Care Act. You have until December 7 or December 15, respectively, to make any changes. As you compare your options, watch out for scams. Anyone who tries to sell you Medicare insurance while claiming to be an “official Medicare agent” is a scammer. There are no Medicare sales representatives.
“Ignore anyone who says you must join a prescription drug plan to keep your Medicare coverage,” the Federal Trade Commission states in a press release. “The Medicare prescription drug plan, also known as Part D, is voluntary and has nothing to do with the rest of your Medicare coverage.”
Never give information over the phone to someone who says he or she needs it so you can keep your coverage. Hang up on anyone who asks for a quick payment, threatens you, or offers you free equipment or services in exchange for information.
If you need help with Medicare, call 1-800-MEDICARE or go to www.medicare.gov.
“You can see how sophisticated this is, and how legitimate they seem to people,” said Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, who held a press conference over the winter when the number of phone scams on Long Island began to spike. “If someone is calling, and they seem to be a real source, do not turn over money without verifying through another source.”
Officials said it is imperative to realize your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls out of the blue. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.