Fraudulent Social Security calls now No. 1 phone scam: Senate report

Fraudulent Social Security calls now No. 1 phone scam: Senate report
© iStock

Social Security impersonation calls are now the nation’s most-reported phone scam, according to an annual report from the Senate Aging Committee released Wednesday.

Fraudulent IRS calls were the most prevalent scam the previous five years.

The typical scam involves a robocall from someone impersonating the Social Security Administration (SSA) and asking for the recipient’s personal information. The calls resulted in scammers bilking Americans, mostly seniors, for $38 million last year, according to the Senate report, citing the Federal Trade Commission.

ADVERTISEMENT

SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul and Inspector General Gail Ennis, both confirmed in 2019, told members of the Senate Special Committee on Aging at a hearing Wednesday that they have made combating the scams a top priority.

“The magnitude of this problem caught us off guard,” Saul said. “Americans trust our agencies and we do not allow swindlemen to erode that trust.”

Saul stressed that educating Americans about which calls are suspicious is the best way to tackle the problem. He said that now when anyone visits the agency’s website, they’ll see a banner linking to tips on how to avoid the scam.

Furthermore, he said the agency has started sending Social Security recipients letters warning about the scams, and all envelopes will provide information about the problem.

“Everyone needs to hear this message,” Saul said. “If a caller says there’s a problem with your Social Security number or account, hang up. Don’t provide personal information. Report it at oig.ssa.gov.”

The SSA and Office of the Inspector General partnered to create an online reporting forum so they can investigate and stop the scammers. They said they have received more than 115,000 reports of fraudulent calls since the forum went live in mid-November.

ADVERTISEMENT

Ennis said the Justice Department has filed requests for two temporary restraining orders on telecommunications companies allegedly involved in the schemes. Such companies, known as gateway carriers, have been accused of facilitating fraudulent phone calls from abroad.

As of Wednesday morning, Ennis said, one of the two restraining orders had been granted.

“Our agents and investigative council advocated for this top-down approach to combat this scam,” she said.

Committee Chairwoman Susan CollinsSusan Margaret CollinsGraham: GOP will confirm Trump's Supreme Court nominee before the election Gardner signals support for taking up Supreme Court nominee this year Tumultuous court battle upends fight for Senate MORE (R-Maine) praised the efforts of both the commissioner and inspector general.

“When this committee first started becoming aware of this scam two years ago, we contacted the Social Security Administration and, frankly, we had a very difficult time getting them to mention and realize how important it was for the agency to be front and center in communicating with beneficiaries about this scam,” Collins said. “That has completely changed since the two of you took your positions last year.”

Saul’s predecessor, Nancy Berryhill, served as acting commissioner from January 2017 until June 2019.