When the Federal Trade Commission warns that a scam is “growing exponentially” it gets my attention.

This scam “spoofs” the Social Security Administration’s real phone number (800-772-1213) on Caller ID with crooks trying to get your Social Security number or money.

The FTC says in 2017, it heard from 3,200 people about SSA imposter scams, reporting losing nearly $210,000. But in 2018, that number grew to 35,000 people with $10 million in losses.

I’d say that pretty much defines the term “exponential.”

“In one version of the scam, the caller says your Social Security number has been linked to a crime involving drugs or sending money out of the country illegally,” explains the FTC. “He then says your Social is blocked — but he might ask you for a fee to reactivate it, or to get a new number. And he will ask you to confirm your Social Security number.”

Imagine the immediate panic, believing you could lose your next monthly Social Security payment.

In another con, callers claim SSA needs additional information so the agency can increase the person’s benefit payment.

“The impersonator asks the victim to verify all personal information, including name, date of birth and Social Security number, in order to receive the increase,” explains AARP. “If the impostor is able to acquire this data, the person can use it to contact the SSA and request changes to the victim’s direct deposit, address and phone information.”

If you’re reading this, saying “That can’t happen to me,” it’s obviously happening to many. So, pass along the following information from the FTC to anyone getting a call from the “SSA.”

The SSA will NEVER call and ask for your Social Security number. And it would never threaten your benefits or tell you to wire money, send cash, or put money on gift cards. Anyone who tells you to do those things is a scammer. Every time.

SSA won’t promise to increase your benefits in exchange for information. If they do, it’s a scam. Every time.

Social Security numbers aren’t suspended or blocked.

Don’t verify your SSN to anyone who contacts you. Not even the last 4 digits.

If someone calls claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, immediately hang up. Call the real SSA at 800-772-1213.

Report suspicious SSA calls to the Social Security Office of Inspector General at 800-269-0271.

Here’s a question: Were you somewhat concerned about the scam which redirects your Social Security direct deposit benefits?

Then open a mySocialSecurity account at www.ssa.gov/myaccount. Having an account thwarts anyone trying to open an account in your name. Don’t want to open an account? Block electronic access to your Social Security record to anyone — including you — by going to www.socialsecurity.gov/blockaccess.

And let’s not forget email.

Look closely at any email you believe is coming from SSA and think before you click. Links to Social Security websites always begin with http://www.socialsecurity.gov/ or https://secure.ssa.gov/. The link must include the slash (/) after .gov. If you’re not sure the email is from the SSA, go to the Social Security website, www.socialsecurity.gov.

The big takeaway here? Vigorously guard your Social Security number. There’s no reason to always carry the card with you, so, keep it in a secure place.

To avoid your Social Security number from being compromised in a data breach, if any business — including a medical practice — asks for it for ID purposes, politely refuse.

“Only a few organizations have a legal right to your Social — your employer, banks and lenders, investment funds, the IRS and government-funded programs such as workers’ compensation,” AARP emphasizes.

If you’re still pressed for your SSN, ask why it’s needed and what happens if you don’t provide it.

David Morris is the Sun’s consumer advocate. Contact him c/o the Sun, 23170 Harborview Road, Charlotte Harbor, FL 33980; email dmorris@sun-herald.com; or leave a message at 941-206-1114.


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