REGION – The phone rings and Caller ID identifies a number in your area code and local calling prefix. But when you pick up the phone, it’s someone with a foreign accent and the message is ominous: “Good afternoon. This is the Social Security Administration and my name is Agent Steve Jones. I am calling to report that your Social Security Number may have been compromised and used for criminal activity. I need to review some information with you.”
All “Steve” wants is verification – full legal name, postal address, date of birth, and Social Security Number. So – who is Steve? Most likely he is an impostor working from a telephone boiler room operation near Mubai, India. Steve is using a computer to mask his telephone number, displaying one that might be more familiar to you – spoofing. Steve is part of an international criminal effort to steal and either use or sell your identity.
These “impersonator” calls may be live or automated robocalls – generally illegal. The criminals often impersonate agents from Social Security, Medicare, and the IRS knowing that many Americans will comply with requests from government agencies. Other scams seek to extort money from you by impersonating computer support technicians from Apple or Microsoft, telling you that your password and ID have been stolen or your computer has a virus. Calls might also appear to come from utility companies threatening to cut services or from relatives who need immediate cash.
What should you do? In most cases, do not answer the phone. Let the call go to voice mail; legitimate callers will leave messages. If you answer the phone and discover an impersonator or a robocall, hang up. Federal and state government agencies will not make initial contact by phone or email. Computer companies do not monitor your devices, and utility companies cannot terminate service without following a legal process. If a relative is in trouble, ask for a callback number and then verify the crisis by contacting those who may be aware of problems. Never send money orders or relay gift card codes over the phone.
Finally, report scam attempts to the office of the Vermont Attorney General at 800-649-2424 or www.uvm.edu/consumer. Self-defense against scammer is usually quite simple – use common sense.
Elliott Greenblott is coordinator of the AARP Vermont Fraud Watch Network. He hosts a CATV program, Mr. Scammer, distributed by GNAT-TV in Sunderland, Vt.