I am going to present a few fraudulent phone call scenarios that exist in the real world and that claim numerous victims, and you see if you can determine what the scammers are doing that actually doesn’t make sense if you stop and think about it:
- A caller claims to be a Social Security Administration representative calls and warns you that your benefits are about to be suspended because of some problem or other. The caller ID shows the correct SSA customer service line. She needs you to verify your Social Security number in order to fix the issue.
- A caller claims to represent a credit card company. He says that your card has been deactivated due to suspicious activity. In order to get your card working again, he needs the card number, expiration date, and three-digit code from the back of the card.
- A caller claims to be a Medicare representative and informs you that your benefits are going to be suspended because of an issue. Before he can fix the problem, he needs you to verify your Medicare ID number.
Did you catch it?
In every case, the caller is asking for a piece of information
that the claimed agency or company would already have…because they created that
piece of information in the first place.
- The Social Security Administration has your
Social Security number. They’re the ones who assigned it to you.
- Your credit card company assigned your card
number and other details to you. They already know it.
- Medicare already knows your ID number because
they gave you that number. If there’s a problem with your account, it’s one
piece of information they don’t need.
(You could also make the more general observation
that these all involve a stranger attempting to alarm you and then asking for
personal information, but these specific questions should really tip you off
that the caller is not who he or she
claims to be.)
There are endless variations on the “scare someone over
the phone so they give up personal information” scam motif, and most of them
are pretty familiar at this point, but every now and then a new angle emerges.
This is one.
The scam involves someone posing as a law
enforcement agent (usually FBI), calling to inform the victim that they rented
a car in Texas, and that the car was found with blood and cocaine inside. The
victim is then pressed to give details such as his or her Social Security
number, financial account numbers, and so on.
There appears to be another version in which the
caller claims to be a Social Security Administration representative, and in
addition to the car filled with evidence, they have also found an offshore
account in the victim’s name holding a large amount of cash, and that his or
her Social Security benefits are going to be suspended. The caller then
proceeds to attempt to wheedle the same personal information from the victim.
Regardless of who the caller claims to be, these
features appear to be repeated in every case:
- The car was allegedly rented in Texas
- Police found blood and cocaine in it
- We need your Social Security number
These are the details currently used in the scam,
but don’t be fooled if they eventually change Texas to Florida or cocaine to
heroin (I have a feeling the “blood” part is going to stay…”you’re a murder
suspect” is almost guaranteed to get
a strong emotional reaction).
Remember these points:
- If a stranger is trying to make you afraid, then asking for money or personal information to make the fear go away, something isn’t right.
- The Social Security Administration already has your number. They’re the ones who gave it to you in the first place. Law enforcement agencies easy access to it, too.
- If the FBI really finds blood and cocaine in a car associated with you, they’re probably not going to call you on the telephone.
- While the SSA does make phone calls, it’s not generally the first point of contact, and it’s almost always going to be regarding an issue already known to the person receiving the call.
- This scam hinges on fears about identity theft—most people’s first reaction is “I didn’t rent a car in Texas!” and then make the connection to identity theft themselves. Recognize the tactic for what it is.
You hear a lot of information about when not to give out your Social Security number, but when are you required to reveal it?
The short (and incomplete) answer is: any time you’re doing something that involves taxable income.
A little more specifically, you’re probably going to be required to provide your SSN in the following situations:
- Opening a new account at a financial institution
- When you get a new job
- When obtaining or renewing your driver’s license or other state-issued identification
- Conducting business involving government welfare or healthcare (Medicare, for example)
Aside from those situations, be very cautious about sharing your number. Actually, be very cautious anyway, but in other situations you would be wise to ask:
- Why your number is needed
- How your number will be used
- What happens if you refuse
- What law requires you to give your number
Finally, be extremely cautious (read: don’t do it at all) when it comes to people asking for your Social over the telephone or Internet, especially if they initiated the contact with you. If you can’t verify who the requesting entity is (as well as the answers to the four questions above), refuse to share your number.