F. Castro / SFVS

Martin Anguiano shows the “Social Security” office call he got that turned out to be a scam.

There are many kinds of phone “scammers” trying to separate you from your money or your data. For example, grandparents are phoned and told a “relative” — a grandchild — is in immediate danger and needs money for hospital bills or bail money to get out of jail. A gas company or water department “representative” phones a business saying their bill hasn’t been paid and threatens to shut off their utilities immediately unless they pay now. Or the “IRS” is on the phone, demanding money  for unpaid taxes or the police will be sent to arrest you. 

Another scam claims they are calling from the Social Security Administration (SSA). 

Martin Anguiano received that call. It was a recording that said his account had been canceled because someone tried to use his name and Social Security number. It also prompted him to dial “1” for further details.

Anguiano, 60, got worried and did press “1,” which connected him to a man with a foreign accent who told him that his name and phone number had been used for fraud. He also asked him for his Social Security number. Anguiano gave him the numbers without question.

The man on the phone continued to ask questions until Anguiano told him he would go to the Social Security office near his home to take care of the issue.

When he got to the office and managed to speak in person with a  Social Security representative, Anguiano learned that yes, he had been the victim of fraud —   by the man who called him who, he found out, didn’t work for the Social Security office at all.

It’s believed that many of these calls are made from outside the country, and they can be difficult to trace. Even if you block their number, they may call again using a different phone number.  Legitimate public agencies don’t make these kinds of threatening calls.

The employee at the SSA office was sympathetic, telling Anguiano that he, too, had received one of these calls.

“We Latinos are really good in trusting everyone who calls us,” laments Anguiano, who canceled his credit cards and put an alert on his credit information, meaning that he will be notified if anyone tries to use it for any reason.

“They (the scammers) are really creative and manage to make it appear on the phone that it is a legitimate call (from the Social Security),” Anguiano said.

Surge in SSA Scams

Anguiano is not the only one who has been victimized.

Seena Gressin, a senior attorney in the Division of Consumer & Business Education of the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), warns about these type of calls.

“Have you gotten calls about supposed problems with your Social Security number from callers pretending they’re with the Social Security Administration? If so, you’re not alone,” Gressin wrote online.

“Our latest Data Spotlight finds that reports about SSA imposters are surging. In the shady world of government imposters, the SSA scam may be the new IRS scam.”

As Gressin further notes, as reports of SSA imposters have swelled – “nearly half of the reports we’ve gotten in the last year have come in the past two months alone” – reports of IRS scammers may be decreasing.

“What’s more, people told us they lost $19 million to SSA imposters in the past year. That overtakes the $17 million reported lost to IRS imposters in 2016, the peak year of the IRS scam,” she said.

The median loss reported last year was $1,500, according to the FTC.

Identifying Scammers

How can you spot SSA imposters?

They often use robocalls to reach you, then launch into a story aimed at convincing you to give them your money, your Social Security number (SSN), or both.

Scammers may say your SSN has been suspended and you need to confirm your SSN to reactivate it. Or, they may say your SSN has been involved in a crime and your bank account is about to be seized or frozen, but you can protect your money if you put it in a gift card and give them the code.

Never do that – your money will disappear.

Scammers also use technology to spoof your Caller ID to make it look like a Social Security Administration office is really calling, the agency warns.

Sometimes victims are asked to confirm their number or are told they need to withdraw money from a bank and buy gift cards.  After handing over the gift card numbers to the “Social Security office,” one consumer interviewed by Fraud.org was told he would receive a refund equal to the amount he paid to unfreeze his account from the Federal Reserve.

Of course the refund never came, and the man lost nearly $20,000.

Remember: the real SSA agency will never contact you out of the blue or tell you to put money on a gift card — or, for that matter, visit a Bitcoin ATM, or wire money.

Protect Your Identity and Your Assets

If you get one of these “SSA” calls:

•  Don’t trust your phone’s caller ID. Scammers can make it look as if the Social Security Administration is calling and even use the agency’s real number.

•  Do not give out your Social Security number or other personal information to a caller on the phone.

•  The Social Security will never call you and demand money. No government agency will demand you pay something using gift cards.

•  If you have a question, call the SSA at (800) 772-1213.

•  Never provide personal information or money to anyone who has contacted you by phone, email or the internet claiming you owe money or their is an emergency and to rectify this, you must transfer money through Western Union, or other companies.

If you receive any call you suspect is from a scammer, never give out any personal information, especially bank accounts and credit card numbers. You can make a note of the number and report it to bbb.org/scamtracker/us, an investigative agency.