A Social Security phone scam seems to have gotten a second wind, as we head into the holiday season.
As KCAW’s Robert Woolsey reports, the latest version of the scam actually includes a threat of arrest if victims don’t comply.
UPDATE Friday, November 27, 2020: In a follow-up call, Kirk Larson, a public affairs specialist with the Social Security Administration Seattle region, attributed the uptick in fraudulent robocalls not so much to the holidays, but to the fact that many people are home during the pandemic. And he says the calls are not targeted. “They (the scammers) cast a pretty broad net,” he said. “They’ll make 200 calls and maybe one person will bite.” Like the SSA agent in Juneau in the original story below, Larson has also received robocalls at his work number at the SSA office in Portland, Oregon. He says the SSA Office of the Inspector General has a large online library of articles for consumers about how to steer clear of attempted fraud — especially fraud related to the pandemic.
I got the call on my cell phone on November 24. And I wasn’t the only one. This is Ashley, an agent at the Juneau office of the Social Security Administration.
“We get calls every day, and I get them on my own personal cell phone number,” she said.
That’s right. The scammers have attempted to scam the people who work at the agency they’re trying to impersonate.
Ashley told me that the calls have gotten more menacing, though. They say that some criminal activity has been associated with your Social Security number, and if you don’t call back right away and straighten it out, and pay a fine or whatever, they’ll issue a warrant for your arrest.
This isn’t the exact call I got, but it’s close. I obtained the recording from the Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration.
(Automated scam recording) …enforcement agencies to suspend your Social Security number on an immediate basis, as we have received suspicious trails of information in your name. The moment you receive this message I need you to get back to me on my department division toll-free number that is 1-888-xxx-xxxx.
So far it sounds reasonable enough, but the scammers quickly turn up the heat.
(More scam recording) … Now if I don’t hear a call from you, we will have to issue an arrest warrant under your name, and get you arrested. So get back to me as soon as possible. Thank you.
You heard it right. They’re going to issue a warrant in your name and “get you arrested.” In one call, the scam slips from the helpful-sounding bureaucratic high ground, to playground smack talk.
My only regret over this event is that I waited too long to respond. Less than 24 hours after I got the call — from a Washington D.C. number — it had been shut down. So I never had the chance to pass along a debit or credit card number, which is what the scammers are after. That’s because this scam has been circulating for almost a year, and the Social Security Administration is aware of it. And although I was eager to call and talk to the scammers, if possible, that doesn’t mean you should be. The Office of the Inspector General of the Social Security Administration has clear advice on what to do.
(Office of Inspector General recording): If you receive a call like this, hang up. If you receive a voicemail, email, or text like this, do not respond. If there is a problem with your Social Security number or record, Social Security will mail you a letter. If you need to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options.
Too true. If the government wants to reach you, they’ll find you through the US Postal Service, which has its own policing system for fraud and scams.
If you get a call, you don’t have to do anything but hang up. However, if you want to report it, you can call a Social Security office in Juneau, Anchorage, or Fairbanks and let them know, and you can file a report online with the Social Security Administration.
The best defense against this latest version of the Social Security scam is to know that it exists, and that their database includes phone numbers in Alaska — mine, and probably yours.