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Freels

Actually, they didn’t.  But, the person on the phone was adamant that they were Barry Smith, an agent for the Social Security Administration.  

The voicemail message I received stated there was an issue with my social security number.  According to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC), I was about to hear how my social security number has been involved in some kind of crime or suspicious activity.  

Knowing it was a scam, I called anyway to see how the call would go.  Hopefully, what follows will help you recognize and avoid these scams.

The call began with an automated voice recording stating that it was the Social Security Administration calling and that I should call back at my first opportunity.  Agent Barry Smith answered and asked when I received the call and if the sheriff’s office had been in contact with me.  He then asked for my name and address. 

I answered both with fictitious information.  He then asked for the last four digits of my social security number.  At that point, I stated I was a bit uncomfortable giving him that information until I knew a little more about what could possibly be the problem.  Of course he was not going to be able to share any of that information with me until he knew that I was the correct person, a fictitious person by the way.  

So, he persisted as did I until finally I asked for his badge number.  At that point, he turned very rude and the call ended.  I can only assume that, had I given him my last four digits, he would have told me he needed the rest of the number.  At that point, my information would have been compromised and I would have opened myself to all kinds of financial fraud.  

Plus, according to the FTC, eventually they may have asked me to make some kind of payment likely in the form of a gift card or wire transfer.  I should add that I called this number three times and the profile was the same each time.

This type of scam is growing exponentially and probably because so many people have fallen prey to it.  According to the Federal Trade Commission, 3,200 citizens reported these calls to the FTC in 2017 and the total loss was $210,000.  In 2018, that number exploded to 35,000 reported calls and losses of $10 million.  Many ask how people succumb to these obvious scam calls.  If the scam didn’t work, then the criminals would move on to something else.

So, what did I learn and how can you recognize this scam?

First, the Social Security Administration is not going to call and ask for your social security number.  These scammers are convincing, determined and are trained to make it sound like you are in real trouble.  You are not.  

If you are truly concerned, hang up and call the real Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213.  Do not give any part of your social security number, any credit card number or any bank information to anyone who calls to ask for it.  Think about it, if they are calling you, shouldn’t they already know that information?

Second, the number from which they are calling may be the number quoted above as the actual Social Security Administration.  These people are sharp and can put a fake number in as the number from which they are calling.  Again, hang up and call the Social Security Administration back if you are concerned.  My call came from Texas.  The calls can come from anywhere.

Third, the people with whom I spoke were somewhat forceful and direct.  At one point, one the “agents” just said, “Tell me, tell me, tell me!”  They will try to scare and intimidate you and make it appear you are really in trouble.  They are not polite.  Notice that he threw in the question about the sheriff’s office just to make it sound a little more official.  

As you can see, these calls will follow the same profile.  Be on your guard.  Quite honestly, the best defense is to delete the voicemail or hang up on the call.  Don’t even bother calling back.  If you’d like to report the call, the Federal Trade Commission is the best place.  You can register that at ftc.gov/complaint.  Stay financially safe.

Frank Freels, Jr. is the senior vice president, security officer of Volunteer State Bank.

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