In one of the most ironic twists to come along in identity theft-based crime, there is a new scam attempt making the rounds, one that works so well because it tries to protect you from – you guessed it – identity theft. According to one victim’s story, criminals posed as members of government agencies and pretended that the victim’s identity had been stolen and asked him to cooperate in resolving this issue.
It started with a call from a scammer claiming to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA). “Your Social Security number has been used to rent a car,” the scammer said. That seems fairly straightforward and basic. The catch, though, is that the agent eventually transferred the call to someone pretending to be a Border Patrol agent who said the car had been recovered at the border and that there was a large amount of illegal drugs within the vehicle.
The callers threatened the victim in a very plausible way, even admitting that the victim probably had nothing to do with this, but would spend tens of thousands of dollars in attorney’s fees clearing his name. You can read the full story, but the short version is this: before the victim got through with this three-hour ordeal, he bought thousands of dollars in Google Play gift cards, and sent photos of the card numbers and PIN numbers to the scammers. After the callers received the information and money, they vanished.
Here are some of the multiple warning signs that could have prevented this crime if the victim had only known what to look for:
- You cannot trust your caller ID to be a verified identity. Any name or number—even your own—can be programmed to appear on that screen.
- The Social Security Administration does not call citizens about these or benefits matters.
- The government does not call individual consumers and enlist their help in an investigation.
- No one will ever call you with a legitimate issue and only give you an hour to comply, so be on your guard against high-pressure tactics.
- You will never be told by SSA or any other government agency to buy gift cards and give them the card details.
- A simple Google search for the phone number and the story the callers used would have told the victim that this was a scam.
The right thing for the victim to do would have been avoiding the scam with a few simple steps. First, ask for the name and agent identification number, then hang up. Contact the SSA yourself using a verified phone number, and ask the agent about this call. You can do this for any government agency the scammer claims to be from. In fact, imposter scams were the most reported complaint in 2018 to the Federal Trade Commission.
Once you call the agency for yourself, provide the agent’s name and number, and tell them what you were told. You will immediately be informed that your information has not been compromised and this was a scam.
Finally, report the phone call to your local law enforcement agency. They can post the incident on their social media pages so that others in your community are not victimized.
Of course, the Identity Theft Resource Center is here to help. Speak to an identity theft advisor for toll-free, no-cost assistance at (888) 400-5530. For on-the-go assistance, check out the free ID Theft Help App from ITRC.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) is the U.S. government agency tasked with protecting consumers. Whether it is issuing warnings and recalls about dangerous products, policing companies for misleading advertising or helping write regulations in regards to harmful products, the FTC is certainly the unsung hero that protects all of us on a daily basis.
The FTC has another crucial job, it is the go-to department for reporting scams, fraud, and other related crimes. As such, the FTC keeps tabs on the types of consumer reports that are filed each year and releases this comprehensive information in its annual report from the Consumer Sentinel Network.
The 2018 report has been released with a shocking new finding: for the first time since the FTC began tabulating and reporting the complaints, imposter scams topped the list of most commonly reported consumer fraud.
An imposter scam occurs when a criminal uses a false identity or persona to trap you. It might be someone pretending to be a Microsoft employee, a Google ad salesman, someone from your bank or credit company, an IRS agent, or a customer service representative from your utility company, just to name a few examples. Using this false persona, the criminal alerts you to some plausible reason why you must pay money or face a consequence of some kind.
For obvious reasons involving threats of jail time and significant penalties, government imposter scams are commonplace. Scams involving phony IRS or Social Security agents made up about half of the 535,417 imposter scam attempts that were reported to the FTC last year. The thought of a fraudulent charge on your credit can make some scam victims comply with a banking imposter scam, but thinking that they have broken the law with regards to their taxes is far scarier.
What is interesting about the increase in government imposter scams is that it is branching out from the norm. IRS scams were commonplace for a long time, as a caller would contact you and claim you have failed to pay your taxes. Now, Social Security imposters contact potential victims and frighten them into thinking their SSN has been suspended or their benefits will not be issued that month unless they verify their identities.
In either case, the goal is money or information. If a scammer can convince you to pay or provide your personally identifiable information, then they can cash in. Sometimes the scammer even manages to acquire both a payment and your data, which will then be used for identity theft.
Unfortunately, as the number of complaint reports to the FTC increased, so did the number of losses that victims reported. With nearly three million different consumer reports made to the FTC last year, the total amount of loss was $1.48 billion, a 38 percent increase compared to the previous year.
Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft
WASHINGTON D.C., Oct. 18, 2018 – Today at an event held in Washington D.C., the Identity Theft Resource Center®, a nationally recognized nonprofit organization established to support victims of identity theft, will release the initial findings of its The Aftermath®: The Non-Economic Impacts of Identity Theft victim impact survey. The survey goes beyond the known financial implications caused by identity theft and explores the emotional, physical and psychological impacts experienced by victims of identity crime.
The survey, which was distributed to victims who contacted the ITRC for assistance in 2017, discovered that many of the respondents experienced negative emotional impacts that resulted in real physical consequences. As an example, of the individuals that responded, 77.3 percent reported increased stress levels and 54.5 percent had increased fatigue or decreased energy.
“Year after year, The Aftermath® survey continues to show that the effects of identity theft are far-reaching: impacting victims’ general emotional and physical well-being, their relationships with others and even how they engage within their work or school environments,” said Eva Velasquez, president and CEO of the Identity Theft Resource Center. “As we work with industry and other stakeholders, it’s crucial to continue to share the emotional, physical and socio-economic impact findings with them so they better understand the totality of the ramifications of this crime, as well as providing encouragement for them to elicit change within their organizations.”
Additional findings include:
Due to their identity theft incident, nearly 46 percent of those surveyed said they felt like they couldn’t trust family while 55 percent stated they had trust issues with friends.
Respondents admitted the identity theft incident caused problems at their place of employment (32 percent) and at school (eight percent).
To access the preliminary findings of The Aftermath® for 2018, please go here. The full report will be available in Spring 2019.
In addition to announcing this year’s The Aftermath®: the Non-Economic Impacts of Identity Theft initial findings, attendees will learn from industry experts as well as from victims themselves as they share their experiences with identity crime. The event will also include a press conference with subject matter expert, Eva Velasquez, and an interactive workshop, which will give interested participants an opportunity to discuss how we can improve victim services. A livestream of the event can be viewed on Thursday, October 18, starting at 9 a.m. ET on the Identity Theft Resource Center’s Facebook page.
About the Identity Theft Resource Center
Founded in 1999, the Identity Theft Resource Center® (ITRC) is a nationally recognized non-profit organization established to support victims of identity theft in resolving their cases, and to broaden public education and awareness in the understanding of identity theft, data breaches, cybersecurity, scams/fraud, and privacy issues. Through public and private support, the ITRC provides no-cost victim assistance and consumer education through its call center, website, social media channels, live chat feature and ID Theft Help app. For more information, visit: http://www.idtheftcenter.org
Contact: Charity Lacey, VP of Communications
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