Greater Augusta Coalition Against Adult Abuse
Report Adult Abuse: 1-888-83-ADULT
By Michelle Singletary
Columnist
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
automated
message.
For more information, contact Anne See at 1(800) 237-0141 or stopadultexploitation@gmail.com
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
being scammed.

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
employee.  

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
trouble.  

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
agency said.

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
    recognize.

  • 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
    or benefits.

  • 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
members:

  • 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
    government office.

  • 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.