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Opinion: Beware: It's not the Social Security Administration calling

Eyes & Ears

Posted online

“Hello. This is the Department of the Social Security Administration. The reason of this call is to inform you that your Social Security number has been suspended for suspicion of illegal activity.”

What? OK, you have my attention.

I got this call a couple of weeks ago.

I usually have a very short attention span for unsolicited phone calls. And even though it was clearly delivered by a robot, this one intrigued me enough to explore it some more. The caller ID showed a local number: 417-987-1379. With a healthy dose of cynicism, I followed the prompt to “press 1 for more information.”

A gentleman with an Indian accent popped up on the line. He reiterated the bot’s initial message, then said he would need some information from me before proceeding and telling me what had happened. He asked for my first and last name. I gave him my last name only. He then asked to confirm my ZIP code. I did not provide that and turned the tables on him.

“I need more information from you first,” I said, before asking for his name, who he works for and his location.

He gave me his name: “Officer Paul Williams,” in his Indian accent, remember.

He said he worked for the Social Security Administration Department located in Austin, Texas. He offered me his “badge ID number” as well: “ACH853392,” he said, deliberately.

He again asked for my ZIP, and I said I wasn’t comfortable sharing more information until I learned more about why I got this call. He said he couldn’t tell me more until he verified my info. I told him no again, and he said, “Then I will suspend your Social Security account. Have a good day.”

Click.

This was a scam – if you hadn’t figured it out yet. I hadn’t heard about it when I got the call.

There were a couple of tipoffs, the most humorous being “Officer Paul Williams” – the very name of the Springfield Police Department chief. Wrong choice of name, scammer.

Upon further research, I discovered just last year federal agencies issued consumer alerts about an uptick in SSA schemes. The scam apparently dates back to 2017. That year, the Federal Trade Commission heard from 3,200 people about SSA scams, resulting in losses totaling over $200,000. The very next year, SSA scam volumes ballooned to 35,000 reported, representing $10 million lost.

Well, they’re still going around.

I’ve learned a version of this phishing scam actually threatens to issue an arrest warrant “in your name and get you arrested” if you don’t respond. Sometimes, the scammer wants you to confirm your Social Security number to reactivate it. I never got to that point, so I’m assuming that question would come after answering the first few questions and building intellectual trust.

Here’s what the FTC has to say:

• Your Social Security number is not about to be suspended. You don’t have to verify your number to anyone who calls out of the blue. And your bank accounts are not about to be seized.

• SSA will never call to 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.

• Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Or your bank account or credit card number.

If you suspect you’ve been contacted by such a scammer, call the Social Security Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.

Scammers also are invading our text messages.

A few days later, I got a text from an unrecognized number that read, “Eric, we found parcel from July pending for you. Kindly assume ownership and schedule for delivery here,” followed by an obscure link.

I’ve received a second with very similar language and links.

These text message package scams are going around everywhere lately, but they really started in January or earlier, according to a detailed public service announcement on HowToGeek.com. There’s even a theory spreading on social media that the texts are related to sex trafficking, but that’s been debunked so far by Reuters fact checks.

The gist of the text scam, reportedly, is that those who click the link are told they’ve won a prize, like an iPhone 11, and need to provide personal information to claim it – including credit card data to cover shipping the product. Just clicking the links reportedly could infect your mobile device with spyware, malware or a virus intending to steal your personal information or bombard your phone with ads.

Don’t mess with it, and better yet, block those numbers on your phone.

Either way, be careful out there, the scammers are calling and texting, and they want your personal data.

Springfield Business Journal Editor Eric Olson can be reached at eolson@sbj.net.

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