Play the audio below and familiarize yourselves with what an SSN scam sounds like. Take note of the sentence phrasing and the mild threat at the near end of the automated recording directed to those who aren’t motivated enough to call back the number it provided.
…law enforcement agencies to 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, I need you to get back to me on my department division toll-free number that is 1-888-952-5554. I repeat 1-888-952-5554. Verify the last four digits of your Social Security number when you call to better assist you with this issue. Now, if I don’t hear a call from you, we will have to issue an arrest warrant under your name and get you arrested. So, get back to me as soon as possible. Thank you.
This particular recording wasn’t specific about the “suspicious trails of information” they were referring to, but there have been reports to the FTC of scammers linking their target’s SSN to certain crimes they claim are taking place in Texas, such as illegally sending money outside of the country.
The FTC noted that the threat of individuals or groups pretending to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA) are growing at an exponential rate. In fact, there was a 994 percent increase in SSN scams reported to FTC—from 3,200 in 2017 to 35,000 in 2018.
Not just a numb3rs g4m3
One attribute that makes SSN scams successful (and makes one likely to be more accepting of calls) is the scammers’ use of technology to mimic the legitimate contact number of the Social Security Administration (SSA) so that appears in the caller ID when contacting targets. In this case, the scammers used 1-800-772-1213, the SSA’s national customer service number. Yet, SSN scams are more than just a numbers game.
To help clue you in on other tactics used by SSN scammers, below is a list of red flags or tactics these scammers practice that anyone with a Social Security Number should at least be familiar with:
- The call comes out of nowhere—especially if you haven’t contacted the SSA first or you have no ongoing business with them, such as a pending Social Security Disability (SSD) application. If you do have a pending application with the SSA, an agent may call if the information in the application isn’t complete, answers on the form aren’t legible, or the agent has found some discrepancies between the information you provided in the application and the information they got from other Federal agencies. An SSA agent will only ask for your SSN if the one you provided is invalid or incorrect.
- The purported SSA agent makes untruthful or worrying requests or claims, such as:
- Your SSN is suspended because of crime-related links (such as what the robocaller claims in the recording above). Fact: Social Security numbers do not get suspended.
- You need to “reactivate” your suspended SSN. Then, scammers either ask for more information or a fee to do this.
- You need to pay for something immediately, like a debt (and they won’t allow you to appeal the amount you owe).
- You need to send over your payment via a means they specify, such as the agent requiring you to pay using your prepaid debit card.
- You need to provide a bank routing number or card details over the phone.
- Your SSN is linked to malicious activities that will lead to your arrest or deportation.
- The SSA system is down, so you need to provide the purported agent with your personal information, such as SSN, date of birth, mother’s maiden name, and bank information.
“SSA employees do contact citizens by telephone for customer-service purposes, and in some situations, an SSA employee may request the citizen confirm personal information over the phone,” writes Andrew Cannarsa, communications director for the Office of the Inspector General (OIG). “However, SSA employees will never threaten you for information or promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information. In those cases, the call is fraudulent.”
Just hang up
Hanging up is the best course of action when you deliberately or accidentally answered a call that you realized, at some point, appears scammy. When in doubt, assume it’s a scam. Besides, no one, not even the legitimate SSA, will penalize you for hanging up on them. Remember that when it comes to nipping scams in the bud, you are in control. End it before they can say another word.
Prevention, of course, is still key. Being able to catch the known red flags we have identified above and knowing what to do should you see a legitimate SSA number flash in the caller ID screen—whether you do or don’t have outstanding business with them—can minimize the risk.
Is the SSA calling? Don’t pick up the phone. Instead, call SSA via their consumer service number and ask if they have been trying to reach you.
Other scams related to SSN
Unfortunately, children and the deceased aren’t safe from fraudsters and identity thieves, either. Parents, make sure you find the time to check your kids’ credit scores to make sure that they remains untouched and are not being built up by someone else. If you see something’s wrong, or if you see signs of potential identity theft, go to this FTC page to read more.
Relatives of deceased loved ones should do credit checks every now and then as well. The Identity Theft Resource Center has useful material on how one can protect the deceased’s identity and other tips.
When it comes to scams, the following is always true: Does it seems suspicious or “off” in any way? If so, it probably is. Proceed with caution and guard your Social Security Number well.