By Jill Penley
The phone rings and grandma shuffles across the kitchen. The caller ID reads “Social Security Administration,” so she quickly answers. The caller, an official sounding gentleman, advises grandma there has been some improper or illegal activity with her Social Security number or account and she could face legal action if she doesn’t immediately call a provided phone number to address the issue. Terrified, grandma jots down the number provided and hurriedly makes the call that leads to a drained bank account, numerous credit card accounts opened in her name and, in some cases, financial ruin.
With telemarketing fraud becoming a lucrative business, scammers have branched out to claim they represent every organization they feel will give them a semblance of credibility and the tactics have progressed by utilizing caller ID spoofing, a process of changing the Caller ID to any number other than the actual calling number. This allows the scammers to falsify and disguise the number they’re calling from so they can claim to be from SSA, the IRS, or another government agency or basically any entity to request your information. They might claim that you have won the lottery or become eligible for an investment if you pay an upfront fee. Callers use a variety of false scenarios or threats to obtain personal information or payments, often requested through gift cards or prepaid debit cards.
“This caller-ID spoofing scheme has unfortunately evolved to include the Social Security Advisory Board, but it is the same type of scam, attempting to mislead people by using the trusted name of Social Security,” said Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis recently in a press release. “I encourage everyone to alert your family and friends about how common these scams are, and to be very cautious when speaking with unknown callers, even if you recognize the caller ID.”
The Federal Trade Commission estimates that consumers lose more than $40 billion a year to telemarketing fraud alone. And older consumers have become a special target for those offering bogus prizes or selling bogus products and services particularly due to their trusting nature.
“Most seniors grew up in an era when business was done on a handshake,” said Johnson County Sheriff Eddie Tester, “and unfortunately, criminals play on that trust.” Local law enforcement officials warn residents to exercise caution. In general, no government agency or reputable company will call unexpectedly and request personal information on the phone. A request of advance fees for services in the form of wire transfers or gift cards should cause suspicion.
It is increasingly difficult to spot fraud, but the most important way to avoid becoming a victim is to stay vigilant. Be aware reputable businesses would not randomly call and request personal information, like account numbers, social security numbers, or your date of birth. The best way to handle this type of situation is to hang up immediately. Asking for banking information over the phone or for gift cards as payment are sure signs that it is a scam.
Also, legitimate organizations will never threaten to arrest by any form of communication.
Chances are good that someone you know has been scammed. They may not talk about it, but the statistics do. One of the most important ways to avoid becoming a victim of a scam is to pass along information about scams that are making the rounds.
Scams are certainly not limited to telephone calls. A few months ago, the Internal Revenue Service (IRS) reported receiving complaints from people receiving fake letters supposedly from the IRS. In the past, it was made clear to potential victims of IRS scams that the agency will never call or email regarding debt due. Mail was always the primary form of communication. Scammers then began creating and distributing fake mail correspondence. In many cases, real tax information was included in these false letters which makes it appear more legitimate.
The IRS will NEVER threaten to arrest by any form of communication.
An authentic IRS letter will include their toll-
free 800 number. If a phone number is included, don’t call that one. Call IRS at 1-800-829-1040. When using any government website make sure the web address ends in .gov and starts with “https”.
An IRS envelope will include the seal and legitimate letters will include your partial tax ID number.
There will be information on how to make a payment and setup payment options. Payment will ALWAYS be made to U.S. Treasury. If you believe you are a victim of an IRS scam, report it to Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration (TIGTA) online at https://www.treasury.gov/tigta/contact.shtml.