Don’t fall for Social Security, gift card scams
Two local senior citizens were recently victims of a phone scam where the scammer said their Social Security would be suspended if they didn’t give them gift cards over the phone.
Scammers are reportedly mimicking phone numbers from Social Security Administration and other agencies to get unsuspecting citizens to give them gift cards worth thundreds of dollars.
“We are urging the public not to trust caller ID even if the number appears to be a legitimate government phone number,” said Tracy Lynge, communications director for the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General.
The two local victims, an 82-year-old woman from Kunkletown and a 66-year-old man from Polk Township, were both told that their Social Security would be suspended if they didn’t provide hundreds of dollars worth of gift cards.
The woman was taken for $800 and the man for $400. State police are investigating both incidents.
SSA says they never suspend Social Security numbers or accounts. They also rarely make calls out of the blue. If there is an issue with your social security, you will usually be notified in the mail first.
If there is a problem with your Social Security number or record, Social Security will mail you a letter. If you need to submit payments to Social Security, the agency will send a letter with instructions and payment options.
“While SSA does make phone calls to conduct business, those instances are very limited, and are generally related to someone having filed a claim or with other ongoing business with SSA,” Lynge said.
Other red flags should be the threat of arrest or other legal action unless immediate payment is made. Social Security never makes that threat, Lynge said.
Similar gift card scams have surged in popularity in the last five years. A 2018 study found that more than a quarter of scam victims paid with a gift card, up from just 7 percent in 2015.
“It is very difficult to recover funds sent via retail gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer—that’s precisely why the scammers use those forms of payment,” Lynge said.
According to Attorney General Josh Shapiro’s office, scammers will often take the gift cards and immediately use them to purchase third party gift cards for services like iTunes or Google Play. Those cards are easy to sell on the black market.
Shapiro and the New York state Attorney General came together last year to get retailers like Walmart and Target to make changes to their gift card policies to protect people who may be potential victims of a gift card scam.
The steps include reducing the amount of cash which can be put on one gift card, and the total amount of gift cards which can be purchased at one time. They also have restricted the use of gift cards to buy the third party cards. They’ve also worked with the stores to encourage them to train employees to identify the signs of gift card scams.
You can report scams to the Attorney General by calling 1-800-441-2555 or emailing email@example.com.