It has been nearly 10 years since a phishing scam targeted Social Security recipients. That followed announcement of a 3.3 percent cost-of-living increase.
As with many other messages asking consumers to reveal their personal information, this attempt was pegged to a headline. Following details of the increase, copied from a genuine Social Security Administration, or SSA, news release, the crooks inserted their falsehood: “We now need you to update your personal information” or see your checks stop.
Instructions to “confirm your records” by clicking a link only took victims to a bogus website, where many surrendered personal and financial information, including Social Security numbers, bank account and credit card information.
The thieves used that data for their own gain.
SSA officials reacted then as they have recently, with reminders that the agency never asks for personal or financial information by email or over the phone. Such attempts to get your information are always scams.
The agency urges consumers to do the following:
— Never divulge a Social Security number or account number to someone who calls or emails.
— Never wire money using a prepaid debit card, and never pay anyone who calls “out of the blue.”
— Check their status of disability benefits (if you have them) regularly and review your statements to be sure they’re correct.
If you’re called and pressured to provide information, perhaps by someone saying he or she is with law enforcement or other authority figure, hang up and report the call to the Social Security Fraud Hotline (1-800-269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. Eastern time.
Report suspicious activity to the Social Security fraud unit online at oig.ssa.gov/report and to the Federal Trade Commission at ftccomplaintassistant.gov/#&panel1-1. The FTC can’t resolve individual complaints but can advise what next steps a consumer should take.
Medicare recipients also are frequent targets of scammers. Callers from “Medicare” tell consumers they need to verify information because new cards are being issued.
“Medicare will never call you asking for personal information,” said Betty Balderston, statewide coordinator for the Maine Senior Medicare Patrol at Legal Services for the Elderly.
While Congress has ordered that Social Security numbers no longer be used on Medicare cards, the change won’t be fully implemented for a few years.
“In the meantime, Medicare consumers should continue to protect their Medicare numbers, just as they protect their credit card and bank account information,” Balderston said.
In the past, we’ve advised consumers to take Medicare cards during an initial visit to a health care facility; from then on, take a photocopy with your Social Security number blacked out; that avoids the need to carry your card which might get lost or stolen.
Another recent hoax email urged recipients to “get protected” and touted ways to help monitor your credit report and warn you of unauthorized use of your Social Security number. Both are lies, designed to prompt your click on links that might download computer malware or divulge your data.
You may spot a scam attempt by hovering your cursor over the address link of the fake email. That likely will show an address ending “.com,” instead of “.gov,” which it should.
If you found the message in your spam folder, ask yourself if your email program didn’t catch the fraud attempt and divert the message appropriately.
Consumer Forum is a collaboration of the Bangor Daily News and Northeast CONTACT, Maine’s all-volunteer, nonprofit consumer organization. For assistance with consumer-related issues, including consumer fraud and identity theft, or for information, write Consumer Forum, P.O. Box 486, Brewer, ME 04412, visit https://necontact.wordpress.com or email email@example.com.