- Last year, individuals lost millions of dollars to fraudsters who claimed they worked for the Social Security Administration.
- The agency is stepping up its efforts to catch bad actors and raise public awareness.
- Here's what you need to know before falling prey to scammers.
If your phone rings and someone says it's the Social Security Administration, it probably isn't.
By now, you may have received one of those calls, or know someone who has.
And because these scams, which try to dupe unsuspecting individuals into coughing up money are becoming more prevalent, the government is taking action.
The agency has dubbed Thursday, March 5, as "Slam the Scam Day," in a campaign to raise public awareness.
That's as individuals reported losing almost $153 million to government imposter schemes in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission. Of that, more than $37 million was attributed to Social Security scams.
The Social Security Administration last summer started a new hotline to report scams. Meanwhile, the Department Of Justice has filed civil actions against telecom companies that have knowingly passed along phony calls.
Yet those efforts aren't enough to keep up with the pace of bad actors. Text messages that use the same language as the scam robo-calls, as well as emails with documents that look legitimate, are now popping up.
"Despite all of our efforts, people will continue to fall victim to government imposters," said Gail Ennis, inspector general at the Social Security Administration. "As we take one scammer down, another will pop up in their place.
"They will find other ways to reach people and devise new techniques to deceive them."
There are certain hallmarks that can tip you off that the phone call is fraudulent.
The first clue is an unsolicited call. Social Security only makes personal calls in specific circumstances, Ennis said. You can expect a call from the agency if you've requested a call back or are undergoing a disability review, for example.
Fraudsters also may threaten to arrest you or take legal action if you don't pay them immediately. They may offer to increase your benefits for a fee. They may offer to protect you from identity theft by transferring your money to a bank account that is supposedly protected by the government.
The caller may ask you to refrain from telling your friends, family or bank about the call. And they may demand unconventional forms of payment, such as gift cards, wire transfers, cash or cryptocurrency like bitcoin.
There are things you can do to protect yourself and help put a stop to the perpetrators.
"If you get these calls, you hang up," said Andrew Saul, Social Security Administration commissioner. "Don't engage with the scammer. You can't beat them."
Also be wary of texts or email notifications that make similar demands.
Most important, never give out your Social Security number.
You also can report the fraudsters via the agency's Inspector General website. Alternatively, you can call the OIG Fraud Hotline at 1-800-269-0271.
"Tell your friends and family about scam calls to protect them," Ennis said.
Since November, the agency has heard from more than 330,000 people who have reported scams. The actual problem could be more widespread because those are just the victims who have come forward.
"There's no magic bullet that's going to solve the problem," Saul said. "What we have to do is inform the public how severe the problem is."