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Don’t panic! Just hang up on Social Security phone imposters, NYPD says

Victims lose thousands of dollars in sophisticated scam

May 1, 2019 Mary Frost
Police were most often summoned to Crown Heights, Bedford-Stuyvesant and Bushwick for 311 complaints. Eagle file photo by Mary Frost
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Phone calls from scammers who pretend to be from the Social Security Administration have increased dramatically in New York City, NYPD says. Some victims go into panic mode and lose thousands of dollars when they receive the calls.

“We have asked law enforcement agencies to suspend your Social Security number on an immediate basis, as we have received suspicious trails of information in your name,” a vaguely robotic voice says when a victim answers a phone call that appears to be from the Social Security Administration or law enforcement agency.

“The minute you receive this message, I need you to get back to me on my department toll-free number that is 1-888-[etc]. Verify the last four digits of your Social Security number when you call to better assist you with this issue.” The voice adds, “Now if I don’t hear a call from you, we will have to issue an arrest warrant in your name …”

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In the first four months of 2019 alone, NYPD received over 200 complaints from victims of this type of phone scam. City residents who panic and take the bait have lost an average of $2,000 each, adding up to more than $2 million overall. The NYPD received only three similar complaints in all of 2018.

To complete the illusion, scammers use technology called “spoofing” to manipulate caller IDs to display the number of the Social Security Administration. In some cases, the phone will display the numbers of other official agencies, including NYPD precincts. The scammer even uses the name of a real officer assigned to one of those precincts.

Victims are told that to protect their money or to avoid being arrested, they have to send a sum of money to resolve the situation. The most common forms of payment requested are prepaid gift cards, Bitcoin and bank wire transfers.

“Victims of this type of phone scam are not limited to senior citizens — these criminals are targeting every strata of society and every demographic is vulnerable,” chief of Community Affairs Nilda Hofmann said in a press release. “The NYPD is committed to working closely with our partners in the financial industries and will not rest until we bring those responsible for these crimes accountable. If you even suspect a call to be fraudulent, don’t take a chance, just hang up.”

Call ‘triggered my issues’

The Social Security phone scam is not just a New York City issue. The Federal Trade Commission’s Department of Consumer Affairs says more than 35,000 people reported the scam nationwide in 2018, and lost $10 million.

Some commenters to the FTC website complain of getting numerous calls a day from these scammers.

“These people need to be stopped, all of them 20 calls or more a day by scammers,” wrote someone calling themselves Kamby on March 26. Kamby said he or she blocks all their numbers, but “they call from another one and use different name.”

Commenter Kat Austin wrote, “I just got a robo call about fraud and legal action if I didn’t call back and settle it before they filed charges. I have severe ptsd and anxiety which in turn cause agoraphobic episodes, it took me a bit to find out it was fraud. The call immediately triggered my issues. These scammers must be stopped.”

Cici wrote, “I also received this type of call for the 3rd time but different numbers. I called back. He asked for my birthday first and I said,” you tell me”. He hung up.” (More comments here.)

NYPD has put together a video starring Deputy Inspector Jessica Corey, C.O. of the Crime Prevention Division, warning people about this scam and what to do if it happens.

The Federal Trade Commission says if you get this type of scam call, just hang up. They add:

  • 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.
  • The real SSA number is 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are putting that number in the caller ID. If you’re worried about what the caller says, hang up and call 1-800-772-1213 to speak to the real SSA.
  • Never give any part of your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Or your bank account or credit card number.

If you get one of these calls, call your local precinct and tell the FTC.

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