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Wednesday June 19, 2019

Savvy Living

Savvy Senior

How to Protect Yourself from the Social Security Imposter Scam

I recently received a strange call from an individual claiming to be a Social Security employee. The caller informed me that my Social Security number had been suspended because it was involved in a crime. He then said that I needed to reactivate my social security number and secure my bank funds by withdrawing them and putting them on gift cards. Is this a scam?

Yes. It is actually known as the "Social Security imposter scam" and it is becoming a widespread problem in the U.S. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has received more than 76,000 reports about this growing scam in the past 12 months alone. With average losses of $1,500, this is quickly becoming a favorite scam among fraudsters.

The Social Security imposter scam usually begins with a call from someone claiming to be with the Social Security Administration. The caller informs the victim that his or her Social Security number (SSN) has been suspended because it was stolen or has been involved in a crime.

The phone call may be a robocaller with a message to "press 1" to speak with a fake support representative who then claims to be able to help reactivate the victim's SSN.

In a variation of this scam, the caller may also tell a victim that he or she qualifies for an increase in benefits. The caller will explain that all the victim needs to do is provide some information. Typically, these callers will ask several questions to get personal information that they can then use to steal the victims' identities or drain their bank accounts.

Because of numerous data breaches, these scammers may have access to accurate personal information — such as SSNs — that they can use to build trust and appear legitimate. Regardless, before concluding the scam, fraudsters will almost always request payment to "unfreeze" the SSN or to process the increase in benefits. The scammer may request payment via an unusual payment method, such as by gift card or some form of cryptocurrency, like Bitcoin.

These scams can be devastating. There are several steps you can take to protect yourself, and your loved ones, from falling victim to this scam:

Do not trust your caller ID: Scammers can make it look as if the Social Security Administration is calling and even use the agency's real number. If you receive an unexpected call from the Social Security Administration, do not answer it. Instead, call the Social Security Administration's customer service number at 800-772-1213 to see if they were actually trying to contact you.

Remember, Social Security will never suspend your number or call and demand money: If anyone tells you something different, you are being scammed.

Do not give out personal information: Never give out your Social Security number, bank information or other personal details to an unknown caller. If you already did, visit IdentityTheft.gov/SSA to find out what steps you can take to protect your credit and your identity.

Do not trust the caller just because they may know some of your personal information: It is most likely a scam if the person on the other end asks to confirm your information.

Talk about the experience: Those who have been targeted should alert friends and neighbors about the call to spread information and report the scam to the FTC at FTC.gov/complaint.

Savvy Living is written by Jim Miller, a regular contributor to the NBC Today Show and author of "The Savvy Living" book. Any links in this article are offered as a service and there is no endorsement of any product. These articles are offered as a helpful and informative service to our friends and may not always reflect this organization's official position on some topics. Jim invites you to send your senior questions to: Savvy Living, P.O. Box 5443, Norman, OK 73070.

Published June 14, 2019
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