Scammers try to leverage two basic emotions to con innocent victims like you and me: greed and fear.
Greed is at the heart of “get rich quick” schemes and “you’ve won a lottery or sweepstakes” scams.
But in what may be an even crueler scam, a con artist exploits you with fear.
An all-too-common fear swindle is the “government imposter scam” where someone says they are an employee of the Social Security Administration (SSA) or another government agency and claims that there is some “problem” that will affect your rightfully earned government benefits.
These con artists may ask for personal information (to steal your identity), demand payment, or make threats. These scams primarily use the telephone, but scammers may also use email, text messages, social media, or U.S. mail.
The Federal Trade Commission warns that “crooks use clever schemes to defraud millions of people [out of tens of billions of dollars] every year. They often combine sophisticated technology with age-old tricks to get people to send money or give out personal information. They add new twists to old schemes and pressure people to make important decisions on the spot.”
One thing that never changes is that they are trying to take advantage of the uninformed. That is why the SSA and the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) are working to raise awareness and prevent scammers from succeeding in their crimes with their annual “Slam the Scam” awareness campaign.
“At Nash Disability Law we often get calls from clients about possible scams,” says disability benefits attorney Dan Rosen. “Sometimes they’ll get an automated message from someone they think works for Social Security, or they will tell us someone is calling them from the SSA, and it just doesn’t sound right.”
Here is an example of a commonly reported scheme: You get a voicemail recording from a caller who states that she is “Nancy Jones” (or some other name), an “officer with the Inspector General of Social Security.”
The recording goes on to say your Social Security account, Social Security number and/or benefits have been suspended, and that you should call a certain number to resolve the issue.
While the scheme’s details may vary, you should never call the number provided, as the unknown caller might attempt to acquire your personal information, like your Social Security number or your bank account number, which the crook will then use to steal your identity.
With this personal data, the scammer could then rack up thousands of dollars on credit cards taken out in your name or could ransack your bank account.
Clearing up your finances after your identity has been stolen is a slow and frustrating process. Instead, call Social Security’s toll-free customer service number at 1-800-772-1213, 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., Monday through Friday, to verify the legitimacy of the call.
“If you are one of our clients, call us,” advises Rosen. “This is a key point. If you get a call about your Social Security Disability benefits, tell the person calling that you are represented, take their phone number, hang up the phone, and then call us. We will help determine if this is a scam call, but even if it really is the Social Security Administration, we don’t want you talking to them without us being involved to protect your interests.”
Rosen adds that “people should also be wary of signing anything, electronically or otherwise, when they don’t know what it is. For example, we’ve had clients unknowingly sign up with another representative, usually through their insurance company, without realizing it. They may think they are just signing an insurance form.”
The Office of the Inspector General and Social Security are working in concert to protect you from scams that use Social Security as bait. The SSA and the OIG emphatically state that real government officials will NEVER:
The OIG can impose severe penalties against anyone who engages in misleading Social Security-related advertising or imposter communications.
(For more about OIG/SSA efforts to combat scams read their blog post: How We Protect You from Misleading Advertising and Communications.)