The phone call goes something like this:
“This is the Social Security Administration. The nature of this call today is to inform you regarding a complaint received about your Social Security number. Before we forward this information to the FBI, we would like to speak with you and get some information before we suspend your Social Security number and stop your benefits. Call us as soon as possible at 888-000-000.”
This type of call sends chills down the spine of most beneficiaries.
But do not call; this is a scam.
As Social Security always advises, it will not contact you by phone. If there is a problem, it will send you a letter.
This is just one of multiple scams that are geared to older adults. And, unfortunately, they scare people so much that they fall prey to them and lose money – in some cases, a lot of money.
Although this is a fairly typical one, there are more elaborate ones that reach deeper into people’s lives. For instance, one scam involved a young man who called his grandparents who lived in Pennsylvania. He said he and a friend were in Canada on a fishing trip. They were arrested by the local police for fishing in an illegal area. In order to be let free, the grandparents had to send $2,500 to the police via Western Union.
The grandparents immediately went to their bank and withdrew the money. After they had sent the money, a second call came from the young man saying that he needed another $2,500. The grandparents once again went to the bank, withdrew the money and sent it via American Express. Only then did they decide to call the parents, only to discover the young man was not in Canada. The whole story was a hoax, but unfortunately, there was no way to reclaim the money or even track the people behind the scam.
How to deal with scammers has been the subject of four hearings by the Senate Special Committee on Aging since the beginning of this year. Each has taken a slightly different tack, from con artists who steal tax refunds to robocallers.
Sen. Bob Casey (R-PA.), Ranking Member of the Committee, along with Sen. Jerry Moran (R-KS), have introduced legislation to try to prevent older adults from losing money to scams.
More than $3 billion has been lost annually by older adults because of scams.
“These criminals coerce and threaten legal action against our elder loved ones if ‘payment’ is not made immediately, often through a wire transfer or gift card,” said Casey.
The Stop Senior Scams Act (S. 149) calls for a federal advisory council to develop model educational materials to train employees of retailers, financial institutions, and wire transfer companies to identify and stop fraud by these unseen individuals.
The legislation is supported by companies from AARP to Walmart to MoneyGram.
Protecting oneself is not easy.
Calls such as the one noted above, were recorded on a message machine, and even if the phone had been answered, there was no live person, only the recorded voice. The point was to scare the individual into using the 888 phone number and return the call. Then, not only would the scammer know who was calling, but would also give instructions as to where to send money.
The first thing to do when receiving an unwanted call such as this, is not to panic. If it is a person, ask for details and hang up. If it is a recorded message, get the phone number. Then either call or e-mail Social Security or the Senate Aging Committee to report the incident. For the former, call 1-800-269-0271; for the latter, call 1-855-303-9470.
For further information, visit the website of the Senate Special Committee on Aging at aging.senate.gov. For Social Security, visit ssa.gov.
1. Neither Social Security or Medicare will call you for either of your ID numbers.
2. There is no fee for either a Social Security or a Medicare card.
3. Never give out personal information on the phone - no matter how someone tries to coax you.
4. Review your medical bills to make sure you are not charged for services you did not receive.
THE FIVE TOP SCAMS IN
1. IRS impersonation
2. Unsolicited phone calls
3. Sweepstake scams
4. Computer Tech Support
5. Financial abuse
—SENATE SPECIAL COMMITTEE ON AGING