I’m sure the crooks would be glad to steal my personal information or frighten me into sending them money.
Government impostor scams are growing and scaring a lot of people. In one particularly heinous version the caller or recorded message claims your Social Security number has been blocked because it has been linked to a crime. The caller threatens that the police may be on the way. You are told to “reactivate” this important number, and to avoid arrest you have to pay a fee or buy gift cards and give the caller the codes on the back of the cards.
“My phone rings multiple times a day from these scammers claiming that my Social Security number is suspended and there’s a warrant out for my arrest,” one reader wrote recently. “I’ve tried to block them but they use a different number EVERY TIME. Why can’t law enforcement trace the origin of these calls?”
She received nine Social Security scam calls in one day.
Here’s what happened to Arthur, who wrote: “I received a call about my Social Security number being suspended and several warrants issued for my arrest. I was highly concerned because my mother relies on Social Security benefits as she is in a nursing home. I thought this phone call was related to that. The call happened on my work cellphone, which threw me off completely. I was asked for my first and last name, and my Zip code. I was nervous during the call until the person asked me to verify the last four digits of my Social Security number. I told the person (1) I don’t feel comfortable doing that, and (2) if the allegations are true then that information should be right in front of you. This person tried to force me to give him the last four digits of my Social several times saying someone opened 20-plus bank accounts in my name in various locations. Once the person realized I wasn’t giving out any information, he hung up on me. I wish there was something more I could do to help stop these scammers.”
There is something you can do.
The Social Security Administration and its Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recently announced a dedicated online reporting form for impostor calls specifically related to Social Security scams. The form will capture data that the agencies will then analyze for trends and to help identify scammers.
“I am deeply troubled that our country has not been able to stop these crooks from deceiving some of the most vulnerable members of our society,” Social Security Commissioner Andrew Saul said.
Click here for the link where you can report the Social Security scam calls, or schemes you get in an email, text or in-person.
And, to alleviate concern that a callback from the Inspector General Office about your complaint is legitimate and not just another scammer, when you fill out the form you’ll have to create a five-digit Personal Identification Number (PIN). If someone from the OIG contacts you about your complaint, you need to ask that the person confirm your PIN.
“I almost fell for this scam when the caller had my son’s name and said the police were coming to arrest him,” one reader wrote. “While reading about the scams I find it hard to believe someone would fall for it, but when it involves family members and plays on your emotions it would be easy to be taken advantage of. I just remind myself if the government wants to get in touch with me they will not be using an automated call to my cellphone.”
Another person wrote that she too got concerned after receiving a call about “suspicious activity” connected to her Social Security number. “I’m glad I did not answer the call. I just retired this year, and I have many new things to deal with. It’s scary.”
Please keep in mind:
— Someone from Social Security may call you if you’re working with the agency on some issue or claim. But just to make sure it’s truly the SSA contacting you, hang up and call SSA’s main number at (800) 772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778). Also, don’t trust the number you see coming up on your caller ID. Criminals are able to spoof numbers to make it appear that calls are from a government agency.
— Your Social Security number cannot be suspended, revoked, frozen or blocked.
— A legitimate government employee will not ask you to wire money, send cash or buy gift cards as a form of payment.
— If you are threatened with arrest or some other legal action, it’s not the government calling.
Have you gotten a Social Security Scam call? What were you told? Send your comments to firstname.lastname@example.org. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Social Security Scam.”
Retirement Rants and Raves
I’m interested in your experiences or concerns about retirement or aging. What do you like about retirement? What came as a surprise?
If you haven’t retired yet, what concerns you financially?
You can rant or rave. This space is yours. It’s a chance for you to express what’s on your mind. Send your comments to email@example.com. Please include your name, city and state. In the subject line put “Retirement Rants and Raves.”
A number of readers responded to last week’s newsletter on the debate between Roth IRA vs. a traditional 401(k).
“I liked the discussion regarding investing in a Roth as compared to a 401(k),” wrote Barbara from Boston. “My answer was, ‘Why not both?’ I am investing in my employer’s 401(k) plan through payroll deductions. I also set up my payroll deductions to contribute to a Roth IRA I have with an investment management firm.”
Brian Farrell of Damascus, Md., wrote: “For decades I invested in the company 401(k) and maxed out the IRAs. When Roth IRAs were invented, I went whole-hog into the Roth. Unfortunately, I didn’t understand the difference between a 401(k) and a Roth 401(k) until I was very near to retirement. To create more tax diversity, I wish I had thought through the advantages of the Roth 401(k) earlier, as others at the company had done.”
Laura McAfee from Catonsville, Md., wrote: ” I laughed at your required minimum distribution (RMD) column, because it reminded me of a recent discussion with my mom. She is the classic ‘Millionaire Next Door’ type, and she was actually fuming because she’d had to take her first RMD. She was so angry that the government was making her ‘spend’ more than she needed to. I just laughed and reminded her that the government isn’t making her spend anything, and that she just has to move it from one account to another and pay some taxes on it."
McAfee also talked about her decision to fund a Roth 401(k).
“When my employer began to offer a Roth 401(k) option, I switched over immediately,” she wrote. “I don’t think this is the optimal choice financially; we are in a high tax bracket now, and so it would probably be better to take the deductions now. However, we are also late in our careers and didn’t have the Roth option for many years, so we have almost all of our retirement investments in traditional 401(k)s and IRAs. I like having a pot of money that I can withdraw tax-free so that I have options to manage my taxable income in future years.”
Subscribe and stay informed
If you’re viewing this post online sign up to automatically receive Michelle Singletary’s newsletters right into your email box: “Your Retirement” on Mondays and “Personal Finance” on Thursdays.
Read and share Michelle Singletary’s Color of Money Column on Wednesdays and Sundays in The Washington Post. You may also see the column in your local newspaper.