COLUMBUS — It starts with a “government phone call.” They tell you that a police officer will be out soon to arrest you. The caller seems legitimate. He gives you a badge number and perhaps even personal information about you. Your phone caller ID displays the name of a real government agency, like IRS or Social Security. But the caller explains that you owe back taxes or your identity was stolen, but you can resolve the issue if you pay a fine or the taxes – immediately. And the way you must pay is by going to the store and buying gift cards, then reporting the numbers to the caller.
Of course, the phone call is a scam, as BBB has been warning for years. We put out a major alert in 2020 on this subject. But “government phone calls” are not stopping; they are increasing! In 2021 consumer losses to this scam were reported to be $ 445 million dollars, which was more than twice the losses in 2020. One person in five who was targeted by these phone calls was reported to have lost money because they were afraid the government was going to arrest or prosecute them. Average loss by each victim is estimated at $3,000, but many consumers are ashamed they fell for the scam and don’t report it.
The current biggest scam is “Social Security.” A “law enforcement agent” tells the victim – often a senior – that their Social Security Number has been used in a crime. They may be arrested. The current SSN and account may have been “suspended,” along with Medicare benefits. But the “agent” can assist in getting a new SSN number but the victim needs to buy gift cards or cryptocurrency to move their money to a “safe” account.
Here’s what everyone needs to know. Government agencies don’t call people with threats or promises of money and never take payments with gift cards, wire transfers or cryptocurrency.
Scammers spoof legitimate phone numbers. Do not trust the phone numbers or click on any links in a text or email message claiming to be from a government agency. Look up the agency’s number online.
Social Security numbers are never “suspended.” The Social Security Agency will never threaten to arrest you because of an identity theft problem.
The IRS generally makes its first contact with you regarding taxes by regular mail, not by phone. Never provide your bank account or personal information to anyone who calls you claiming to be with the IRS.
Government Grant messages are another big scam. You often get them on social media (Facebook, Instagram, etc.) from a friend who tells you they got a big cash grant from the government, possibly related to a COVID relief program. Your friend encourages you to apply and pay the application fee. But you never receive any grant, and you discover that your friend never sent you the message; their internet address book was hijacked by scammers.