Social Security phone scams have become rampant, and the people who fall for them often find themselves out thousands of dollars. In the first six months of 2019, the Federal Trade Commission received nearly 73,000 reports of Social Security imposters, costing victims a total of $17 million.
The scammers typically pretend to be government employees who claim there has been identity theft or another issue with someone’s Social Security number, account or benefits. The callers may threaten arrest or other legal action and offer a resolution to the issues if they receive payment via retail gift card, cash, wire transfer, cryptocurrency or prepaid debit cards, the Social Security Administration reported.
If you receive a call demanding payment via one of these methods, it is not coming from the Social Security Administration and is likely a scam, as the SSA usually corresponds with people by mail. If you get a suspicious call, your best course of action is to hang up.
But not everyone hangs up, so now you can learn from these people who stayed on the line and fell victim to these criminals because not everyone is aware of these scams.
Last updated: Feb. 26, 2020
1. They Lost $7,000 in a Social Security Scam
An anonymous Reddit poster with the username meowlistentome received a phone call that appeared to come from their local police department. The caller told them that they had an arrest warrant for three separate charges, including drug trafficking. When meowlistentome told the caller that they had no idea about the crimes, the caller told them they must have been the victim of identity theft and would have to change their Social Security number. In addition, they would have to secure all the funds currently in their bank accounts, since the identity thief could now have access to the accounts with their Social Security number. The caller instructed meowlistentome to withdraw the $7,000 they had in the bank and use it to purchase Apple gift cards. They were then told to read off the serial numbers from the gift cards so that the caller could turn them over to the Social Security office to have the funds redistributed into a new bank account.
“It made no sense and I don’t know what came over me, but they kept me on the phone while I was doing all this and asked me not to talk to anyone because it was all highly confidential,” they wrote on Reddit. “I couldn’t find anything online that made this resemble a scam, so I figured it’s either [a] scam or real, but since I wasn’t sure I went along with it.”
When They Realized It Was a Scam
The caller then asked meowlistentome to fill out a new Social Security form and send over scanned copies of their driver’s license, passport and health insurance card. The caller also asked meowlistentome to withdraw over $80,000 from their 401(k) and transfer that money to their bank. It was at this point that meowlistentome realized this was definitely a scam and did not go through with withdrawing from their 401(k) or sending photocopies of their various forms of identification.
What They Did About It
When they realized they had been scammed, meowlistentome changed their email passwords as well as the passwords for all of their bank accounts, 401(k) and investment accounts. They also stated on Reddit that they would be filing a police report.
2. She Lost $150,000 in a Social Security Scam
Machel Andersen, a Utah-based grandmother, lost $150,000 in retirement savings in a Social Security scam, KSL.com reported. In December 2019, she received multiple voicemails from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, and when she called the number back, she was told that her Social Security number had been used to register a car in her name that was found at a crime scene at the Texas-Mexico border. She was also told that her Social Security number had been used to set up bank accounts associated with a drug cartel. Andersen was told that the cartel was watching her and that she and her grandchildren were in danger. She was instructed to transfer all of her money from her bank accounts to an off-shore account that would be safer and was told she would be arrested immediately if she didn’t cooperate.
Andersen was skeptical — she looked up the name of the person the caller claimed to be, and even asked if she could FaceTime them. However, the name checked out, and she took the caller at their word when she was told it would be impossible to FaceTime. So she transferred her life savings in a wire transfer to the Bank of China. But this wasn’t enough for the scammer. They called back asking her to wire more money and even take a mortgage out on her house. She agreed to send more money — and did send tens of thousands more that she and her husband had recently cashed out on investments — but drew the line at taking out a mortgage. Andersen did, however, ask her friend to lend her $60,000 to send the scammer to avoid being arrested.
When She Realized It Was a Scam
The weekend after her contact with her scammer, Anderson decided to do a Google search to figure out if she could have been duped.
“[I] found out pretty quickly it was all a scam. I was devastated,” she told the U.S. Senate’s Aging Committee at a January hearing, KSL.com reported. “For the last six weeks, I have been asking myself how this could ever have happened to me. My husband and I had worked hard all our lives to save the money the scammers stole from us. We had hoped we could travel and do mission work with the money we had saved. Now, we can’t. Instead, we will need to work to try to replenish what I lost.”
Learn More: The Classic Cons Behind These Digital-Age Scams
What She Did About It
Andersen is now dedicated to sharing her story in the hopes that awareness will prevent others from falling victim to a similar scam.
“I don’t know if I will ever stop wondering why this happened,” she told the committee, according to KSL.com. “[But] maybe my story will help stop these scammers, once and for all.”
3. He Lost $9,500 in a Social Security Scam
A man living in the Puget Sound area of Washington received a voicemail from someone claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, warning him that he would be arrested if he didn’t clear an issue with his Social Security number, he told the local news station KIRO 7. Because he had been a victim of identity theft in the past, the man believed the caller. When he called back, he was told to withdraw all the money in his savings account before it was frozen by the government and that he would need a new Social Security number. He was then told to purchase $500 gift cards for Nordstrom and Nike with the $9,500 he had withdrawn. The man was promised that the funds from the cards would be kept safe by the government and distributed into a new bank account opened for him with his new Social Security number. He was told two agents would visit him that week to help him open the new account.
When He Realized It Was a Scam
The scammer told the man the agents would come to his home on Tuesday, and when no one showed up, the man realized he had been scammed out of his life savings.
What He Did About It
As soon as he realized he had been scammed, the man went to the police. Unfortunately, there was no way to recover the funds he lost.
4. She Lost $20,000 in a Social Security Scam
A mom of three from Blue Ash, Ohio, received a call from someone alleging to be a Social Security agent, who told her that her Social Security number had been used to open 25 bank accounts, she told Cincinnati’s local ABC affiliate, WCPO 9. The caller told her that her Social Security number had also been linked to illegal drug activity and money laundering and that there was now a warrant out for her arrest. She was told that she would go to jail if she did not follow their instructions.
“All I could think about was, ‘I am going to go to jail,’ I have my kids with me, and I am thinking, ‘I have to do this, I have to get this done,'” she told WCPO 9.
So she didn’t hesitate when they told her to withdraw the $20,000 she had in her savings account so that the Social Security Administration could place her funds in a safe, temporary holding account. She was instructed to use the funds to purchase Target gift cards across several stores, buying batches of $800 and $900 Target gift cards.
“[The caller] had me read every single card number to him, and then he said, ‘Oh, you can go home now and be with your family,'” she told the news station.
When She Realized It Was a Scam
As soon as the woman got off the phone, she came to her senses and realized she had just been scammed.
What She Did About It
The woman called the police, but it was too late.
“We did a police report,” she told WCPO 9. “They went through every gift card, but they had already been redeemed.”
Although she won’t get her money back, the Ohio-based mother is now on a mission to prevent others from falling for the same scam.
“I want to warn other people, if they get a call like that, to hang up immediately,” she said.
5. He Lost $2,500 in a Social Security Scam
Sam Fellman received a call on his cellphone when he was sitting at work from a man who claimed to be from the Social Security Administration. Fellman was told that his Social Security number had been used to rent a car near the Texas border that was found with cocaine in the trunk, and that he could face criminal prosecution if he didn’t cooperate.
“I spent three and a half hours on the phone and the callers put me under constant time pressure,” he wrote on Business Insider.
Fellman was told to withdraw money from his checking account and use it to purchase multiple $500 Google Play gift cards. Although he was suspicious, he continued to follow the instructions the caller gave to him. Fellman was told to send photos of all the cards and serial numbers — and just like that, he was out $2,500.
When He Realized He Had Been Scammed
Although numerous red flags were raised during Fellman’s interaction with the scammers — including why a government official would ask for Google Play gift cards and if the caller really was a government agent — the pressure of the caller got to him and he complied with their demands. It was only when he finally hung up the phone that he realized he had been scammed.
What He Did About It
Fellman called the police when he realized what had happened. He also wrote about his experience for Business Insider to share the red flags he missed that other potential victims should watch out for.
6. She Lost $7,500 in a Social Security Scam
A 46-year-old woman from Modesto, California, received a call from a man claiming to be a Social Security Administration investigator telling her that her number had been used to open 25 accounts in Texas, the Modesto Bee reported. She was told that she would likely face jail time if she did not stay on the line with the caller, who told her to withdraw money from her bank accounts and use the money to buy Target gift cards. The woman withdrew $7,500 from four different accounts, redeemed the cash for Target gift cards and read the serial number to the man on the phone.
When She Realized It Was a Scam
It’s unclear when the woman realized she had been scammed, but when she did, it was too late to get her money back.
What She Did About It
The woman told the police that she had been scammed out of $7,500.
“[There’s] zero way of getting that back, no way to track it,” Modesto Police Department Sgt. Manuel Corona told the Modesto Bee.
Corona told the paper in September 2019 that his police department’s property crimes unit gets 15 to 20 scam reports a month.
What To Do if You Fall Victim to a Social Security Gift Card Scam
According to the Federal Trade Commission, “gift cards are like cash: if you buy a gift card and someone uses it, you probably cannot get your money back.” The FTC notes that a caller who asks for payment by gift card is likely not who they say they are: “Gift cards are for gifts, not payments. Anyone who demands payment by gift card is always a scammer.”
However, if you do get caught up in a gift card Social Security scam, there are steps you should take as soon as possible.
1. Call the Company That Issued the Gift Card Immediately
The FTC advises calling the company that issued the card right away.
“When you contact the company, tell them the gift card was used in a scam,” the FTC site states. “Ask them if money is still on the card, and if they can refund your money. If you act quickly enough, the company might be able to get your money back.”
Unfortunately, this isn’t always the case.
“Be aware that some companies will not return any money even if the gift card hasn’t been used,” the FTC said.
You should keep the gift card itself and the receipt from buying it. In addition, you should alert the store you purchased the gift card from that it had been used for a scam.
2. Contact the Federal Trade Commission
Report any scam or fraud to the Federal Trade Commission. You can report fraud online at ftc.gov/complaint or by phone at 877-FTC-HELP.
3. Report the Fraud to Your State Attorney General
Social Security scams should also be reported to your state’s attorney general. You can find out who your attorney general is by visiting NAAG.org.
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About the Author
Gabrielle joined GOBankingRates in 2017 and brings with her a decade of experience in the journalism industry. Before joining the team, she was a staff writer-reporter for People Magazine and People.com. Her work has also appeared on E! Online, Us Weekly, Patch, Sweety High and Discover Los Angeles, and she has been featured on “Good Morning America” as a celebrity news expert.