Detroit Free Press/MCT

Your cellphone rings and the voice on the other end warns you of the dire consequences of not hitting “1” on your keypad and speaking to someone on the other end right away.

The automated voice will tell you that due to “suspicious activity” on your Social Security number, “all your social benefits will be canceled until further clearance.”

After you have visions of all of your Social Security benefits that you’ve earned since your first job evaporating, the caller says if you don’t press “1” to speak to a Social Security Administration officer “your Social will be blocked permanently.”

Sometimes the voice even tells you legal actions are about to begin on your name and number — or are about to.

‘Suspicious activity’ call is fraud

The message from Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General: It’s a fraud.

Hang up immediately.

Do not press any buttons.

Do not call them back or engage in conversation.

Above all, do not give anyone your Social Security number, or even any part of it, or any other identifying characteristic such as your bank account number or your mother’s maiden name, to these unknown callers. Thousands have been bilked and millions lost since this scam picked up heavy traction in late 2017, according to the Social Security Administration’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.

Last year, the Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Stone, urged the public to to remain vigilant of telephone impersonation schemes like these that exploit the Social Security Administration’s name and authority.

Social Security Administration employees may call citizens with whom they have ongoing business for “customer-service purposes” but these calls will never use threats to entice you to reveal your Social Security number of banking information. The office also will not tell you that you face arrest or other legal action if you ignore the request to provide such information, the administration said.

“Unfortunately, scammers will try anything to mislead and harm innocent people, including scaring them into thinking that something is wrong with their Social Security account and they might be arrested,” Stone said in a statement. “I encourage everyone to remain watchful of these schemes and to alert family members and friends of their prevalence. We will continue to track these scams and warn citizens, so that they can stay several steps ahead of these thieves.”

Fake calls on the rise

And yet the calls seem more frequent.

According to the Federal Trade Commission, in 2017, about 3,200 people contacted the commission to report receiving calls from the impostors and they had been scammed out of $210,000 when they gave the caller their Social Security or bank number.

Callers may tell you to put their money onto a gift card and give the card number to the fake “Social Security Administration officer.”

In 2018, more than 35,000 people reported the scam and losses soared beyond $10 million, the Federal Trade Commission reported.

Your caller ID will generally display an 800 number and the caller will often be marked Unknown. Recent calls to Florida customers have come from numbers in Corpus Christi and San Antonio, Texas, and Baldwin, New York, and even the United States. But they can come from anywhere.

The numbers have included 800-675-9199, 800-652-7660, 800-571-4363 and 800-122-0310.

Sometimes, as in the Texas numbers, they come with a different area code, such as 361 or 210, for instance.

And most troublesome, sometimes the impostors “spoof” the actual Social Security telephone number, 800-772-1213, but it is not the real office calling, the Federal Trade Commission warns.

How to report fraud

If you are getting these calls, in addition to not responding in any way, you can report the call by hanging up and dialing the real Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213. (Make sure to hang up first so you don’t inadvertently hit Call Back on the scam call you just received.)

You can also report the calls by filing a complaint online with the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.

Or report the call to the Social Security Administration’s Office of the Inspector General online at https://oig.ssa.gov/report-fraud-waste-or-abuse/fraud-waste-and-abuse. Or call: 800-269-0271 from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Eastern Standard Time.

The Social Security Administration also has a Scam Awareness page with information on this and other frauds involving people impersonating the Internal Revenue Service, lotteries and Social Security officers at: https://oig.ssa.gov/newsroom/scam-awareness.

Miami Herald Real Time/Breaking News reporter Howard Cohen, a 2017 Media Excellence Awards winner, has covered pop music, theater, health and fitness, obituaries, municipal government and general assignment. He started his career in the Features department at the Miami Herald in 1991.

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