|Greater Augusta Coalition Against Adult Abuse
Report Adult Abuse: 1-888-83-ADULT
By Michelle Singletary
August 12, 2019
Beware of scammers who say it’s the government calling
Imagine you’re retired and your primary source of income is
your monthly Social Security check.
Your telephone rings and an automated message says your
Social Security number has been “suspended” because of
some suspicious activity. You may even be threatened with
arrest if you don’t call the telephone number provided in the
If someone calls saying that your Social Security number
and the benefits connected to it may be in jeopardy, it’s
understandable that you might panic. You’re told that to
reactivate your Social Security number, you have to pay a
fee or buy gift cards. You have reservations, but fear of
being cut off from the money you so desperately need
overtakes any reservations you may have.
So you call the number.
What comes next can be devastating.
My mother is 76 and has early Alzheimers, one reader
wrote. She received a call saying that her Social Security
information was compromised and that the only way to
rectify the situation was to buy $3,200 in gift cards to Target
and GameStop and give the codes to an employee. She
was told the money would be deposited back into her bank
account. Obviously, the majority of people would
understand that this is a scam, but she is easily confused
and gave away all of the money in her checking account.
And once it was gone, there was no way to help her or
recover the money.
This Texas woman’s daughter, who wrote to me, said one
store employee warned her mother that she was probably
In the defense of the stores, GameStop tried to talk her out
of purchasing the gift cards, the daughter said. They knew
it seemed sketchy. I guess in a perfect world they would
have called the police before running the transaction, but
they did try. Target was helpful in trying to gather
information after the fact, and we appreciated that too.
Evil is all I can think of to describe the people behind this
particular scam. It’s especially heinous when you consider
that many of the victims are retirees on fixed incomes.
I wish that we would have known about the scam ahead of
time, so we could have talked about it with her and warned
her, the daughter said. My mother never could have even
imagined that someone would impersonate a government
You’ve probably gotten a Social Security scam call. I've
received many on my home and cellular phones. The
Federal Trade Commission said there’s been a significant
surge in scams in which impostors claim they are calling on
behalf of a government agency.
Pretending to be the government may be scammers favorite
ruse, the FTC said in a blog post about top impostor
scams. Government impersonators can create a sense of
urgent fear, telling you to send money right away or provide
your social security number to avoid arrest or some other
Since 2014, the FTC has received almost 1.3 million reports
about government impostors, The complaints far surpass
any other type of fraud reported in the same time frame, the
Many people have received a call or voicemail from
someone warning them that their Social Security number or
benefits are suspended due to suspicious activity, Darlynda
Bogle, assistant deputy commissioner for the Social
Security Administration (SSA), wrote in a recent blog post.
It's an alarming scam and one we must help people identify
so that they do not become the next victim.
This is a seriously troubling trend, and we all have to
get the word out about this scam, Bogle said. She
shared the following tips from SSA:
- Don’t answer calls from numbers you don’t
- Never give out personal information such as your
account numbers, passwords, Social Security
number, mother’s maiden name or other
identifying information if a call seems suspicious.
- Government employees will not threaten to take
away benefits or ask for money or personal
information to protect your Social Security card
- If you receive a call from someone asking for
your Social Security number, bank account
number or credit card information, don’t engage
this caller. Instead, hang up and report that
information to SSA's Office of the Inspector
General via its online fraud-reporting form.
You can also report government impostor scams to the
FTC at FTC.gov/complaint. For more information about
other scams, go to ftc.gov/imposters.
Here’s how you can help your friends and family
- Every time you read about this scam, share the
article on your social media accounts. Next time
you attend a community, religious or church
event, ask organizers if you can make a public
service announcement about this scam at the
beginning or end of the meeting.
- If you have elderly parents, put a note next to
their phones to remind them about the scammer
techniques. Here’s a link to a free one-page
information sheet in English and Spanish about
Social Security scams. Print it out and post it.
- Before my grandmother passed away, we had an
agreement that she wouldn’t respond to an
unsolicited telephone call without consulting me
first. And she did just that.
- Tell folks not to trust caller ID. The crooks can
make a call look as if it’s coming from a
- If you’re shopping or work for a retailer and see
someone buying gift cards in huge amounts, ask
some questions. You might say something like, “I
don’t mean to get into your business, but there
are scams out there involving gift cards. Just
want to make sure you aren’t being victimized.”
“I consider myself pretty savvy, but I admit I did get
fearful when a robocall reported my Social Security
number had been hacked,” a reader wrote. “I didn't fall
for the scam after I collected my breath, but these kinds
of calls can be scary.”
It’s become unsafe even to answer your phone.
People, please be careful out there.