One of the most sensitive pieces of personal information is a consumer’s Social Security number (SSN), used by companies, the government, and other institutions to identify individuals--and highly sought-after by identity thieves.
In our era of data breaches, electronic transactions, and privacy concerns, scammers are aware of how concerned consumers are about guarding their SSNs, and that is why we are seeing an increase in the “Social Security imposter scam.”
The Federal Trade Commission received more than 76,000 reports about the Social Security imposter scam in the past 12 months alone. With average losses of $1,500, this new scam is quickly becoming one of fraudsters’ favorite tricks.
The scam usually begins with a consumer receiving a call from someone claiming to be with the Social Security Administration. The caller informs the victim that their SSN has been suspended because it was stolen or has been involved in a crime.
In a variation on this scam, the caller may also reach out to tell a victim that they qualify for an increase in benefits. All they need to do is provide the scammer with some information. Typically, these callers will ask their victims several questions to get personal information that they can then use to steal their identity or drain their bank accounts.
Because of the numerous data breaches, these scammers may have access to accurate personal information—such as an individual’s real SSN—that they can use to build trust and appear legitimate. Regardless, before concluding the scam, fraudsters will almost always request payment to “unfreeze” the SSN or to process the increase in benefits. The scammer may request that they be paid via an unusual payment method such as by gift card, or some form of cryptocurrency like Bitcoin.
One complaint we received from a consumer in Florida is typical of the scam:
“I received a call from the Social Security office explaining my Social Security number had been stolen and someone is committing money laundering [with the number].” The thieves had “abandoned a car with drugs in it, [that was] purchased in my name [and] found in Texas.”
In order to resolve the issue, the consumer was “told to secure assets by purchasing gift cards,” and provide the gift card numbers to the Social Security office. The consumer was told that he would receive a refund equal to the amount he paid to unfreeze their account by the Federal Reserve in a few weeks.
Unfortunately, the consumer never received a refund, and he lost nearly $20,000 to this scam.
While the scam can be devastating, there are several steps you can take to prevent yourself, and your loved ones, from falling victim to this scam:
- Don’t trust caller ID. Scammers are very good at spoofing your caller ID to make it appear they are calling from a government agency. If you receive an unexpected call from Social Security, don’t answer it. Instead, call Social Security’s customer service number at 1-800-772-1213 to see if they were actually trying to contact you.
- Remember, Social Security will never suspend your Social Security number. If someone contacts you saying your number has been suspended, they are trying to steal from you.
- Social Security will never call and demand that you wire them money or pay them with gift cards or cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin. Any supposed Social Security officer that makes this request is a fraudster.
- Don’t give out your personal information on request. If you are asked to confirm your Social Security number or bank account number by a phone call or email you did not initiate, it is a scam.
- Don’t trust a caller just because they know some of your personal information. Sadly, due to numerous data breaches, we have received reports that fraudsters are providing victims with their SSN to build trust. Just because an individual knows your Social Security number or some other piece of personal information, they are not necessarily legitimate.
- Spread the word. The Social Security imposter scam is relatively new, and many Americans may be unaware of it. To prevent additional victims from falling for this scam, we need your help. Please mention this scam, or forward this alert, to friends and loved ones. Together, we can stop this scam from growing, and protect Americans from identity theft, and prevent victims from losing their savings to fraudsters.
The Social Security imposter scam can be difficult to detect and is growing in popularity. If you come across this scam, or if you fall victim to it, report it! You can file a complaint at Fraud.org via our secure online complaint form. We’ll share your complaint with our network of more than 90 law enforcement and consumer protection agency partners who can and do put fraudsters behind bars.