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Social Security Administration Warns of Increase in Telephone Scams

New PSA campaign cites impersonators using scare tactics to cheat victims

Video courtesy of the Social Security Administration

En español | The Social Security Administration is using new public service announcements to warn Americans about the increasing number of telephone scams and to advise what to do about them.

The number of such telephone impostor scams has increased more than tenfold in recent years. Complaints about them jumped from 3,200 in 2017 to 35,000 in 2018, with financial loses increasing from $210,000 to $10 million, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). The PSAs are 60-second, 30-second and 15-second warnings for airing on TV and radio.

The scams are variations of fraudsters impersonating SSA employees. The ploys range from telling a victim that his or her Social Security number has been suspended and requesting that number to threatening arrest if a victim doesn’t place money on a gift card and give the fraudster the gift card number. The victim is, in effect, held hostage over the phone, while the scammer asks, “Are you buying the gift card?”

Another version of the scam threatens the victim with arrest if he or she does not return the scammer’s phone call. Finally, some impersonation phone calls tell victims they will receive greater Social Security benefits if they pay a fee to the scammer.

The fraudsters may use SSA’s 1-800-772-1213 number on caller ID as part of their scam.

The best strategy is to avoid the scammers altogether.

“What we really want is for people to hang up the phone,” says Andrew Cannarsa, a spokesman for the SSA Office of the Inspector General.

Avoid giving your Social Security number to anyone who telephones claiming to be from the agency. Agency employees occasionally contact people by telephone for customer-service issues. For example, if you have business pending with the SSA, an employee may telephone you and request that you confirm personal information. Be cautious. SSA employees will never threaten you to obtain information or promise benefits in exchange for information from you, according to an SSA spokesperson. Generally, agency notifications are sent by postal mail or to your email, if you have created a My Social Security account.

Other advice:

  • Never place money on a gift card; the SSA does not ask anyone for gift cards.
  • Report any suspicious scam calls to the SSA Office of the Inspector General, 1-800-269-0271.

AARP’s Fraud Watch Network can help you spot and avoid scams. Sign up for free Watchdog Alerts, review our scam-tracking map, or call our toll-free fraud helpline at 877-908-3360 if you or a loved one suspect you’ve been a victim.