In this digital age that we live in there is an infinite number of ways that scammers can gain access to your personal information. From high-profile data breaches that are often outside of your control to weak passwords and phishing attacks that are preventable, staying vigilant is of upmost importance.
It may seem odd, but the fact that many common scams have a long shelf-life is a good thing. That makes it possible for organizations to track scams and warn the public about what to watch for. There are many agencies doing this, including the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) and the Better Business Bureau (BBB). The FTC regularly updates the part of its website that’s dedicated to exposing scams and provides a way for consumers to post complaints. The BBB also keeps track of current scams and schemes to keep consumers and businesses on their toes.
One key item scammers seek is your Social Security number (SSN). By now, we all know it’s critical to guard this key piece of information. Yet, one method scammers often use to steal SSNs is to simply phone victims. It goes something like this: You get a call from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, and the caller tells you that your SSN has been “suspended” because of suspicious activity. The story varies, for example, the caller may say that you’re due for an increase in future benefits. Then he or she will ask you to verify your SSN, just to be sure you’re really the person who owns the account. And that’s how they get your number.
No matter what a caller tells you, the Social Security Administration states that it never places such calls. The same is true for the IRS. Don’t be fooled by caller ID, which can be part of the scam. Thieves can mimic actual phone numbers, even for government agencies.
What should you do if you get such a call? Hang up and call the number yourself. Or, if you want to be sure everything’s in order, end the call. Then look up the general phone number on your own, call it and ask whether someone is trying to reach you. For the Social Security Administration, the general office number is (800)-772-1213. Don’t rely on a phone number that the caller gives you. That number is most likely part of the scam.
How Thieves Use Stolen SSNs
Once a thief gets hold of your SSN, he or she might seek to deepen the scam using one of the following tactics:
Fund wiring request. A scammer may call you, pretending to be with an organization that you’d expect to already have your SSN. As noted before, this could include the Social Security Administration, the IRS, or an official from your bank or credit card. After the caller convinces you that the call is legitimate, he or she may recite to you your own SSN, to further establish credibility. Then the caller may ask you to authorize a funds transfer for a specific purpose, such as to prevent having your account frozen. Don’t fall for it.
Tax identity theft. This seasonal scam involves intercepting a tax refund that should go to you. The early tip-off could be a letter from the IRS stating that the tax return you have just submitted is the second one it has received using your SSN. If you e-file your return, you may get a notice that your filing was rejected because your refund has already been paid.
Or the IRS might say it isn’t giving you a refund because you still owe taxes that you didn’t know you had to pay. This could indicate that someone was fraudulently using your SSN to work under but not paying the related taxes.
It would take millions of words to catalog all the scams that are out there. Don’t assume that you’ll be targeted only if you spend a lot of time online. Some scams and schemes are low-tech and arrive at your home with a simple knock on your door or a ring of the phone.
Forewarned is forearmed, as the saying goes. What you don’t want to hear yourself saying is, “Wow, I didn’t see that coming.”