A recorded message claiming that a person’s Social Security number has been “suspended” is part of the latest phone scam targeting Iowa City-area residents.
The call can come from various numbers — a call to Little Village on Monday morning came from an 888 toll-free number — and features a computer-generated voice claiming to be from “the Department of Social Security Administration.” That’s the first clue it’s a scam, because the agency’s actual name is the United States Social Security Administration (SSA).
In addition to getting the name wrong, the message also includes a grammatical error a federal agency wouldn’t make in a public statement.
This call is from the Department of Social Security Administration. The reason you have received this phone call from our department is to inform you that we just suspend [sic] your social security number, because we found some suspicious activity. So, if you want to know about the case, just press 1. Thank you.
Pressing 1 puts the caller in touch with a scammer, who asks the person for their Social Security number and other personal information.
In addition to collecting information that makes identity theft easy, the scammers claim a payment is required in order to reactive the suspended number. The caller is told to make the payment by buying gift cards at certain businesses and providing the card numbers to the phony SSA agent.
The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau (CFPB) first reported this scam in July 2018. Last week, the Internal Revenue Service issued a warning about a new variation on it, in which the scammers claim the Social Security number has been suspended because of unpaid taxes.
SSA, CFPB and the IRS all have issued statements explaining that the federal government never suspends a person’s Social Security number. Also, no federal agency ever demands payment over the phone, or accepts payment in the form of gift cards. And federal agencies don’t make initial contact with citizens about a problem over the phone.
Earlier this year, residents of Johnson and Linn counties were targeted by phone scammers pretending to be sheriff’s deputies. Those scammers also attempted to get people to buy gift cards, either to pay bail for a family member the scammer claimed was in jail, or to pay a fine because a bench warrant to arrest the person had been issued.
Like their national counterparts, local law enforcement agencies never demand payment over the phone or accept gift cards.
SSA asks anyone contact by phone scammers regrading Social Security to contact its Office of Inspector General Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271 or oig.ssa.gov/report.