TUCSON – Irene Manzanedo recently received this voicemail on her work phone:
“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 this case, just press 1. Thank you.”
Irene told the News 4 Tucson Investigators, “Immediately I was like, ‘Oh, it’s interesting. They’re calling me and making me feel like, oh they’re protecting me.’ But this is very concerning.”
The scammers didn’t know or apparently care that Irene works at The Better Business Bureau of Southern Arizona. She knew it was a scam but the Federal Trade Commission says telephone scams cost U.S. consumers $429 million last year. Americans received 48 billion robocalls in 2018. Experts say 40 percent of those can be illegal. Some robocalls are legitimate, such as those from your pharmacy, kid’s school or your airline. The Social Security robocall scam is now number one on the list, ahead of the IRS and jury duty scams.
“It’s absolutely a success formula when the scammer uses fear and intimidation to try to get you to take an action that isn’t in your best interests,” says Kathy Stokes, Director of Fraud Prevention Programs with the AARP. Its new nationwide survey found that almost half of the 1842 people questioned said they receive seven or more robocalls per week and that few consumers are taking action to protect themselves.
“My best advice is to actually not answer the phone unless you absolutely know who’s calling,” Stokes said. “Let that phone number get through to voicemail and then you can make a decision on whether to return the call or not.”
Stokes said the survey found consumers under-use the national Do Not Call registry. Keep in mind, while the do not call feature certainly helps, it does not always work because scammers often change their phone numbers. You should also ask your phone provider about call-blocking features. The Federal Communications Commission is proposing to push phone companies to block unwanted calls to their customers. The Federal Trade Commission says if you do answer a suspicious call, hang up, then call the real phone number for the company or government agency that the caller claimed to be from; ask if the robocall came from them. You should never provide personal information to anyone you haven’t confirmed as a legitimate caller.
Stokes said about those who make illegal robocalls, “Well I think they’re reprehensible and if they could use the incredible skill they have at scamming us for good, I think the world would be in a bit of a better place.”
Irene Manzanedo said in the unlikely event that she could ever talk to the scammer, she would ask them, “Why are you doing it like this? What has caused you to want to steal from people?”
Social Security Administration employees occasionally contact people by telephone but the reason is usually already known to the recipient. If you receive a call from anyone claiming to be from Social Security, hang up and call the agency on its real number, not the number provided by the person who called you.
The FTC has more information here on what you should do about robocalls.
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