The fraudsters who steal money and personal information over the phone keep finding new ways to use technology to scare and deceive us.

They’ve mastered the robocall and manipulate caller ID. Now, these scam artists have added fake government ID badges to their bag of tricks.

The Office of the Inspector General at the Social Security Administration warns that phone scammers are creating “fake versions” of identification badges, the kind most federal employees use to gain access to federal buildings, to create the illusion of credibility.

“The badges use government symbols, words, and even names and photos for real people, which are available on government websites or through Internet searches,” Inspector General Gail Ennis warned in a news release earlier this month. “The scammers will text or email photos of the fake badges to convince potential victims of their legitimacy.”

Real Social Security officials will never text or email you a photo of their government identification for any reason.

It Starts with a Scary Robocall

Like most phone scams, the Social Security imposter scam starts with a robocall designed to scare you. The fraudsters want to grab your attention and get you to respond without thinking.

“Due to suspicious activities related to your Social Security number, we have been forced to suspend your Social Security number with immediate effect,” the electronic voice says. “Due to this, all your social benefits will be canceled until further clearance.”

If you feel this call is in error, the recording says, push one to talk to someone in legal. DON’T do that. You don’t want to talk to the scammers. Simply hang up.

The recorded message ends with this warning: “In case we did not hear from you, your Social Security will be blocked permanently.”

How to Spot a Social Security Imposter

You should assume any robocall purporting to be from Social Security—especially one claiming there’s a problem with your number or account—is a scam. If you’re monitoring the call on your answering machine, don’t pick up, and don’t call back. Don’t respond in any way.

“The scammers play on people's fears. They know that if they don’t hook people with that fear tactic right up front, people will often hang up—and that's what we do want you to do, hang up,” said Tracy Lynge, communications director at the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General.

Note: The government doesn’t suspend Social Security numbers, Lynge told Checkbook, so anyone saying that is a con artist.

If you owe money to Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights.  Someone from the agency may call you in rare situations—typically in connection with a claim you filed.

A few more rules to remember. The Social Security Administration will never:

  • Threaten you with arrest or other legal action unless you immediately pay a fine or fee.
  • Require payment by retail gift card, wire transfer, or digital currency.
  • Promise a benefit increase or other assistance in exchange for payment.
  • Send official letters or reports containing your personal information via email.

The Social Security Administration only sends text messages if you have opted in to receive texts, and only in limited cases, such as when you’ve subscribed to receive updates and notifications by text, or as part of two-factor authentication when accessing your “my Social Security” account.

If you get one of these calls and you’re afraid there might be a problem with your Social Security Account, call the agency at 800-772-1213, and they’ll put your mind at ease. You can also report a possible scam on the Social Security site.

 




Contributing editor Herb Weisbaum (“The ConsumerMan”) is an Emmy award-winning broadcaster and one of America's top consumer experts. He is also the consumer reporter for KOMO radio in Seattle. You can also find him on Facebook, Twitter, and at ConsumerMan.com.