January 30, 2020
Lance Robertson, ACL Administrator and Assistant Secretary for Aging

I’ve gotten the fake calls “from the Social Security Administration,” and I bet you have too. I know I don’t need to tell you that the people we serve are getting these calls every day.

Scammers are increasingly using phone calls, emails, and even text messages to impersonate government officials in an attempt to steal money and personal information.

The plan is simple for these “impostor scams.” They call, email, or text claiming to represent a government agency such as the Social Security Administration (SSA), Internal Revenue Service (IRS), or Department of Health and Human Services (HHS). Some even “spoof” their phone number or email address so that it looks like the call or email is coming from a legitimate government phone number or e-mail address. They lure victims by telling them they’ve “won the lottery” sponsored by the federal government or “owe a debt” to the IRS that must be paid back immediately. They may even claim that a person’s social security number has been linked to criminal activities and suspended, and all they have to do to reactivate it is to “just confirm” the social security number. They will often use threats of arrest or harsh legal action to create a sense of panic, and demand payment via wire transfer or gift card (so the payment cannot be traced).

For those targeted by these scams, the consequences can be devastating. And while scammers can steal money from adults of all ages, older adults and people with disabilities are often singled-out and targeted.

One of the best protections against this and other scams is knowledge. When people are familiar with these scams, they are less likely to lose money. This is why ACL is working with our federal partners in the Elder Justice Coordinating Council to raise awareness about these scams and to stop the scammers and the harm they cause.

The power of the EJCC lies in collaboration and coordination to achieve a greater impact than we could individually. Through the EJCC, we are greater than the sum of our parts. When we’re tackling a public awareness issue like impostor scams that means each of the 14 EJCC agencies reaching out to stakeholders across the country with tips and tools for spreading the word.

Here is what people need to know:

  1. The government will never call out of the blue and ask for a social security number.
  2. The government will never ask for payment by gift card or wire transfer.
  3. Social security numbers cannot be suspended.

These general tips can also help everyone protect themselves:

  • If you are ever suspicious about a call, hang up immediately.
  • Never click on an e-mail link or attachment unless you fully trust the sender.
  • Never pay someone you do not know well via gift card or wire transfer.
  • Always be cautious about giving out your personal or financial information, including your Medicare or Social Security numbers, or any banking information.
  • Sign up for the National Do Not Call Registry.

Victims of any scam should file a Federal Trade Commission (FTC) Complaint. In addition, SSA has a reporting form specifically for social security impostor scams. I’m asking everyone in our aging and disability network to help people take these steps.

The Department of Justice just filed suit against some companies and individuals who are alleged to be responsible for hundreds of millions of these scam calls. DOJ worked with the Social Security Administration, the Federal Trade Commission, and the United States Postal Inspection Service – all members of the EJCC – as well as several other state and federal partners, to get the data needed to bring this action and stop these calls. That’s why reporting the scam calls matters!

There are many great resources available to help raise awareness about imposter scams:

To combat these scams, we need to talk about them. This is why I am looking forward to our June EJCC meeting, which will focus on the topic of financial exploitation, including impostor scams. These conversations are important. But even more important are the conversations you can initiate now in your community.

Thank you for helping us get the word out!