phone scam (Daisy Daisy/Shutterstock.com)

SSA field offices staff slammed with scam complaints

Senior citizens concerned that they’re being tricked out of their Social Security benefits by scammers impersonating government employees are flooding agency phone lines and offices.

The scammers call beneficiaries, telling them there has been identity theft or some other problem with their Social Security number, account or benefits. To resolve the fictional issue, the scammers often demand payment by retail gift cards, wire transfers, prepaid debit cards, internet currency or cash.

These “imposter scams” have increased so much that they were the top fraud scheme in 2019, according to the Federal Trade Commission.  The Social Security Administration estimated that its 800-number fielded about 854,000 scam-related calls in 2019, a ten-fold increase over the prior fiscal year, the SSA Inspector General’s Office found in a May report.

Scammers sometimes spoof telephone numbers of the local SSA office so it appears the call is legitimate. When fraudsters spoofed one field office’s phone number, some of the victims contacted by scammers called the office back, resulting in a 10-fold increase in calls. SSA staff also told the inspector general, the scams made the public more likely to question authentic telephone calls and consequently preferred in-office interviews, increasing the number of those interactions.

The increased call volume and office visits related to resolving scams diverted staff from handling their normal tasks, such as adjudicating Social Security benefit claims and handling Supplemental Security Income applications and post-entitlement issues. SSA estimated it spent over 100 workyears in FY 2019 on these and other scam-related activities at a cost of $8.4 million, the IG report said.

This additional work generally falls to field offices and teleservice centers, where the number of permanent employees has decreased by 2,530  over the last 10 years, according to testimony from New England Social Security Management Association President Justin Groshon. “Over this same period,” he said, “Operations employees have been processing more work, with dated technology and complicated policies.”

According to a survey of 500 SSA managers the association conducted, the fraud problem has also caused the public to be suspicious of employees, Groshon wrote in his testimony. Some customers are even convinced SSA employees “are behind the scam calls, and thus view our staff with distrust.”

“SSA did not shift personnel or resources to specifically address the imposter scam’s effect on its service delivery,” the report said, but rather focused on reducing the number of incoming scam-related calls and visits. It deployed an online imposter scam reporting form and data analysis program, increased public awareness of the scams and worked with telecommunication providers to prevent fraudsters from successfully completing spoofed calls using its 1,600 field office telephone numbers.

Reader comments

Fri, Jun 12, 2020

I do not answer if caller i.d is not known. I'm 80, but I know government agencies do not contact anyone by phone. I get bogus calls from every location and familiar names re credit card interest rate reductions. If I do answer, i hang up immediately or put my phone on speaker and let the caller listen to my tv!

Thu, Jun 11, 2020

I am convinced the medicare person I spoke with in 2019 was behind a "you have won" so many months of car service among other things. This was the what I suspect was the beginning of a scam to the number the SSA provided to call to discuss medicare. The reason I suspect it was Medicare personnel is that I was in contact with SSA and they wanted to schedule time to speak by phone. They sent an email with the number to call and it was a social security number (per caller ID). The contacts occurred all within too short a period to be random or conincidental. I reported it to SSA and IG with phone numbers and times but wouldn't count on anything being done about it.

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