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Scammers use SSA fraud hotline

It sounds ominous.

A robotic voice says the call is coming from the Department of Social Security Administration and your Social Security number has been “suspended” because of suspicious activity.

You are told to press “1.”

Then you talk with someone who has your information. The person on the other end of the line accuses you of committing crimes and calling federal marshals to come arrest you, which is where the scam comes in.

If you pay with a pre-paid gift card, you won’t be arrested.

It sounds legitimate.

It is not.

It is another variation on the telephone scam and there have been a number of those calls coming in to people in Lawrence County and the tri-state.

The person on the other end of the line accuses you of committing crimes and calling federal marshals to come arrest you, which is where the scam comes in.

If you pay with a pre-paid gift card, you won’t be arrested.

It’s bad enough that, if you call the local Social Security office to ask about it, there is a message telling you to call the Office of the Inspector General to report the scam.

The scam apparently started in earnest in March. In April, the Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis, put out a warning that it was a scam and that people should not give any information, rather they should just hang up.

Tracy Lynge, the communications director with the Social Security Office of the Inspector General, said the first thing that people should realize is that they do not suspend Social Security numbers, ever.

“Those numbers are for recording benefits and they are used for a lot of other things in society, but they were created for and primarily used to track benefits. There is no reason to suspend someone’s number.”

She said the agency has gotten reports of hundreds of these types of calls and the fraudsters are using a lot of scare tactics, including threats.

“SSA employees will never threaten you, even if you have done something wrong,” Lynge said. “And they will not promise you Social Security benefits in exchange for money.”

She said that people should never wire money or put money on a pre-paid debit card or a gift card.

“Federal employees never ask for that, ever,” Lynge emphasized. “That is a scam, every single time. Just hang up.”

Lynge said that one mobile phone provider told the agency that they had seen a “spike in the thousands” of calls “spoofed” so it looks like it is coming from the office’s fraud hotline, which is 1–800-269-0271.

“We have now blocked that number so it won’t show up as our fraud hotline anymore,” she said. “But they will find another way. They are always evolving, as soon as we block one avenue, they come up with another one. So it is up to people to be very aware how common these calls are.”

She said that the Social Security Administration rarely calls people unless the person gets benefits and then it is limited to customer service help with something like a claim.

“Out of the blue calls from government employees rarely happen,” Lynge said. “And they would already have the information that these scam artists are looking for. But it is very rare. And they never ask for money over the phone.”

Lynge said that if the agency is tracking the scam and if you get a call from a suspected scam artist, you can call the fraud line or go online and report it to the Office of Inspector General at https://oig.ssa.gov/report. You can also report these scams to the Federal Trade Commission through a new site specific to Social Security scams, https://identitytheft.gov/ssa.