That 'official' letter you got from Social Security? Careful!

Photo (c) Zimmytws - Getty Images

Be especially careful if you get a call from area code 603, 607, or 608

Anyone who receives Social Security benefits knows to expect letters and notices from the Social Security Administration (SSA) from time to time, but the agency says that a band of pranksters has cranked up their printing press and are unloading fake letters on SSA recipients, both online and in the U.S. Mail. 

And like other impersonation scams, these letters look as real as real can get (thank you, Adobe). The agency said the letters closely resemble not only the SSA, but the SSA Office of the Inspector General (OIG), and the letterhead of other government agencies, such as the Federal Trade Commission.

Recent reports to SSA OIG indicate that scammers are targeting individuals by producing letters that appear to be from SSA or SSA OIG. Scammers usually send these letters as attachments to emails and text messages. These scammers are trying to steal your money or your identity.

The SSA is anything but happy about this. The agency is already holding down first place in the government agencies scammed the most. Losses total more than $100 million a year at an average clip of $1,500 per victim.

“Scammers are counting on the public to be uninformed, but my office is working diligently, and with other government agencies and businesses, to ensure that consumers are aware of recent trends and ploys used by these criminals,” said Gail S. Ennis, inspector general for SSA. “We will continue to issue alerts to protect the public and advise them to slam the scam by ignoring scammers and reporting them.”

How a government imposter scam works

Government imposter scammers predominantly use the telephone to contact a potential victim, but they may also use email, text messages, social media, or U.S. mail.

So, if someone calls or contacts you and says they’re from a government agency, you can be polite – for a while. But if they start pressuring you or tell you there’s a problem or won a prize, or that you need to pay in a specific way, hang up. If it’s really a government agency and they really need to talk to you, they’ll find a way.

The SSA also says to…

  1. Secure your money and personal information. Do not transfer money or buy gift cards.

  2. Be skeptical and cautious of unexpected calls and messages.

  3. Do not click links or attachments.

ConsumerAffairs broadened our search of other things seniors should be looking out for and found two.

One of those came from T-Mobile’s latest scam report -- calls from area codes 603, 607, and 608. When the Federal Communications Commission mandated the new codes, it probably had no idea that scammers would make use of them but they have, so be careful.

The other is from Jon Clay, vice president of  Threat Intelligence at Trend Micro, who tipped us off to a growing number health insurance-related scam cases that use benefits as a lure to try to get victims' personal info and financial info. One of the dead giveaways is graphics that contain the wording “Attention seniors & all Americans.”

But if you take the bait…

If you fall prey to a government imposter scam, the best thing you can do to protect yourself and your accounts is to first notify financial institutions and safeguard event account you have – banking, credit card, everything. 

Then, contact local law enforcement and file a police report, and file a complaint with the FBI Internet Crime Complaint Center. Report Social Security-related scams to SSA OIG. Report other scams to the Federal Trade Commission.

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