The Senate Aging Committee found that Social Security phone scams are now the most prevalent attack targeting older generations.
Of the 1,341 complaints lodged at the Senate Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline, 371 were calling to complain about a Social Security impersonation scam. This popular technique has fraudsters impersonating an official from the Social Security Administration in an attempt to pry personal information like Social Security numbers or bank account information from innocent victims.
According to the Federal Trade Commission, these calls led to over $37 million being handed over to scam artists, mostly from older retirees. Fraudsters managed to steal an average of $3,000 from victims age 80 and up, according to SSA Inspector General Gail Ennis. Even younger generations are at risk, though. The 20 to 29 year old age bracket lost $1,000 on average in the same scam.
Republican Sen. Susan Collins, who chaired a hearing from the Senate Aging Committee in Washington on Wednesday, said that the $37 million lost may be “just the tip of the iceberg.”
“Educating people — particularly older Americans who are more likely to be targeted — and ramping up the government’s response are key to defeating this scam,” Collins added.
The SSA also reported that nearly 500,000 complaints of impersonators have been lodged to the organization. SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul was shocked by the number, and said it is a top priority to find a solution.
“The magnitude of this problem caught us off guard,” Saul said during Wednesday’s hearing. “Americans trust our agencies and we do not allow swindlemen to erode that trust.”
Saul released a PSA earlier this month, and he added that the SSA has started sending letters to Social Security beneficiaries that warn them of the scams.
“Everyone needs to hear this message,” Saul said. “If a caller says there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account, hang up. Don’t provide personal information. Report it at oig.ssa.gov.”
And now the Justice Department is stepping in. It has filed two temporary restraining orders against telecommunications companies that may be involved in the scams, and one of the restraining orders has already been enacted, according to Ennis.
“Our agents and investigative council advocated for this top-down approach to combat this scam,” she said.
And Collins praised both Ennis and Saul for making the scams a top priority for the SSA since taking their positions in the SSA last year.
“When this committee first started becoming aware of this scam two years ago, we contacted the Social Security Administration and, frankly, we had a very difficult time getting them to mention and realize how important it was for the agency to be front and center in communicating with beneficiaries about this scam,” Collins said. “That has completely changed since the two of you took your positions last year.”
Here are some tricks a scammer may use, per the SSA:
- Tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended.
- Contact you to demand an immediate payment.
- Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Require a specific means of debt repayment, like a prepaid debit card, a retail gift card or cash.
- Demand that you pay a Social Security debt without the ability to appeal the amount you owe.
- Promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase in exchange for information or money.
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