Financial scams involving individuals posing as government employees aren’t limited to those Internal Revenue Service (IRS) phone scams. There’s a new scam making the rounds – and this time, it involves individuals claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). According to Gale Stallworth Stone, the Acting Inspector General of Social Security, reports of the new scam are coming from all over the country.
In March, the SSA and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) began warning citizens about suspicious calls from people posing as OIG investigators. As in the IRS phone scams, the calls typically include a recorded message – this one purporting from an “officer with the Inspector General of Social Security.” The recording advises there is a problem with the person’s Social Security account, Social Security number (SSN), and/or benefits and advises that a call back is needed to resolve the problem. During the follow-up call, the potential victim is generally threatened with arrest unless they paid out funds in iTunes cards, other gift cards, or prepaid banking cards (sound familiar?).
In June, the SSA followed up with a warning about a scheme targeting former clients of Kentucky disability attorney Eric Conn. In that scheme, callers claim to be from SSA and offer citizens $9,000 from a “Conn Client Compensation Fund” if a payment of $200 is first sent to the “Federal Reserve Bank of New York.” As with previous scams, those who sent money received additional calls demanding more money and in some cases, threatening arrest.
Now, the agency says it’s receiving new reports from citizens across the country involving phone calls from an individual posing as an SSA employee. In this latest scam, the caller attempts to acquire personally identifiable information (PII) over the phone in order to redirect benefits using direct deposit as well as changing the victim’s address and telephone number with SSA.
Reports suggest that the calls tend to originate from a telephone number with a 323 area code. The caller claims to be an SSA employee, and in some instances, begins by telling the victim that they are due a 1.7% cost-of-living adjustment (COLA) increase in Social Security benefits. The impersonator goes on to ask the victim to verify personal information including their name, date of birth, Social Security number (SSN), and parents’ names in order to qualify for the increase.
While it’s true that SSA employees may – unlike IRS representatives – occasionally contact citizens by telephone for customer service purposes, it’s unusual (though not completely unheard of) for an SSA employee to request confirmation of personal information over the phone out of the blue. Acting Inspector General Stone warns citizens to be cautious and to avoid providing information such as your Social Security Number (SSN) or bank account numbers to unknown persons over the phone or the internet unless you are certain of who is receiving it. “You must be very confident that the source is the correct business party, and your information will be secure after you release it,” Stone said.
I’d go a step further and advise, “ When in doubt, assume it’s a scam. ” If you have questions about any communication (email, letter, text or phone call) from any person claiming to be from SSA or the OIG, contact your local Social Security office or call Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 1.800.772.1213 (TTY: 1.800.325.0778) to verify its legitimacy. SSA is available from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday.
If you receive a suspicious call from someone alleging to be from SSA, you are also encouraged to may report that information to the OIG at 1-800-269-0271 or online via https://oig.ssa.gov/report.