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.