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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:

  1. 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.
  2. The Social Security Administration does not call citizens about these or benefits matters.
  3. The government does not call individual consumers and enlist their help in an investigation.
  4. 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.
  5. You will never be told by SSA or any other government agency to buy gift cards and give them the card details.
  6. 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.


Read more: Imposter Scams Were the Most Reported Complaint in 2018

 

A new report from the Federal Trade Commission found that tax return fraud actually declined recently, and Social Security scams stepped in to take their place. These scams can manifest in a few different ways, but all of them are intended to steal your money, your identity or both.

Listen to the real scam below:

In one of the Social Security scams circulating, a caller claiming to be from the Social Security Administration informs you that there has been suspicious identity theft activity involving your SSN. You are urged to purchase a prepaid debit card, iTunes gift card or other reloadable funds card and transfer all of your money out of your bank accounts and onto that card. This is supposed to keep those dangerous hackers from getting your money. The agent calls back later to confirm that you have done it, and then tells you the Social Security Administration will record the card’s account number and PIN number in your file, supposedly to protect your money in case something happens to that card. Once you read the card number and the PIN number to the fake agent, they will drain the funds off the card and you will now be completely broke.

The more common of the Social Security scams, is to call a potential victim and claim that their SSN has been suspended. This scam has actually been at work for some time, but there has recently been a renewed number of victim reports. In this Social Security scam, a fake agent tells you that your number has been suspended due to possible identity theft, meaning you will no longer receive benefits, it can no longer be used for health care or other benefits. You are required to confirm your SSN and some other sensitive personal information for the agent in order to reinstate your SSN. After you confirm your personal identifying information, the fake agent steals your identity and uses it for a variety of malicious activities, including opening new lines of credit and claiming your benefits.

In order to protect yourself, you must adopt one ridiculously easy habit: never believe what you hear over the phone. It is far too easy to scam people via phone, and thanks to simple tools that anyone can acquire, the scammer can even change their phone number on your caller ID in order to look legitimate. Therefore, it is vital that you ignore any warning or request from anyone who calls you—and the same is true for emails, social media messages or texts. If there is a genuine problem with your account or your information, you can always contact the organization, agency, or business directly to put the matter to rest.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center 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.


Contact the Identity Theft Resource Center 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.

Read next: The How and Why of Tax Identity Theft