Scams directed at senior citizens are nothing new, but technology makes it easier to carry out a plausible, widespread con, and so these dangerous schemes are proliferating. The latest batch of deception threatens something most older Americans have come to rely on—their Social Security checks.
Fake Cost-of-Living Increases
Here’s how the scam works: a caller, impersonating an agent of the Social Security Administration, calls a senior under the guise of offering them a cost-of-living adjustment that will increase their monthly benefit. In order to do so, the caller says, the senior will need to “verify” their personal information. This typically means providing the senior’s birthdate, Social Security number, and parents’ names.
If the target complies with the request, the caller takes the information and contacts the actual Social Security Administration, using the personal information to alter the recipient’s direct deposit instructions and redirect their benefit check to an account or address established by the scammer.
While it’s not known how many people have been taken in by this deception, a consumer advisory issued by the SSA indicates that complaints about such calls have come from all over the United States.
“Overpayment” of Benefits
Another recent scheme involves a recorded phone message sent out to countless seniors. The gist of the recording is that there is a problem with the person’s Social Security benefit checks. A telephone number is supplied so that the recipient can contact the agency about the problem. Naturally, this is an issue most people want to address immediately.
When the justifiably-alarmed senior calls the number provided, they hear another recorded message, this one advising them that a warrant has been issued for their arrest. The only way to prevent arrest is to repay the funds they were allegedly overpaid by the government. Typically, this “repayment” requires the purchase of prepaid debit cards, often hundreds of dollars’ worth.
It may seem unlikely that people would fall for such a scam, but the threat of arrest, coupled with the inability to reach a “real” person on the phone can be an effective scare tactic. Even if the scheme only works one out of a hundred times, it’s still a windfall for the con artists, at the expense of a vulnerable senior.
How to Protect Yourself and Your Loved Ones From Scams
When it comes to protecting yourself from a con artist determined to separate you from your money in these ways (or variations which are sure to crop up), there are a few things to remember.
First, NEVER give personal information over the phone to someone you didn’t call. If you did call, make sure the phone number you used was from a verified source, like an agency website that ends in “.gov.” A number on your Caller ID that appears to be from a federal agency may be false.
NEVER give personal information over the phone to someone you didn’t call.
Second, know that if there truly is a benefit due you, or an overpayment of benefits, or an amount that you owe to the government, you will never be contacted by phone. The federal government contacts people regarding such matters using postal system. If someone calls you, ask them to send the information in a letter. If they refuse, or begin to pressure you, saying the matter is too urgent to wait for a letter, hang up.
Third, if you do owe the government money for any reason, they will be perfectly fine with receiving a check at a government address you can verify. Alternately, if they are continuing to send you benefits, they may deduct reimbursement for overpayment from a future check. You will never be asked to repay a debt to the government with untraceable sources such as prepaid debit cards.
When in doubt, if someone is pressuring you on the phone for personal information or payment, say that you’ll have your attorney get back to them and ask for their name and number. If they’re legitimate, they won’t have a problem with that—and neither will you.
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