Scammers Are Taking Advantage of Americans’ Economic Woes

Scammers Are Taking Advantage of Americans’ Economic Woes

Fraudsters are getting more adept at impersonating Social Security Administration officials. 

With inflation now reaching nearly 8 percent year-over-year, it is unsurprising to hear that many Americans—especially senior citizens—might fall for scams that promise financial relief.

According to personal finance expert Susan Tompor of the Detroit Free Press, some scam artists are sending “letters to seniors to tell them that they need to call a toll-free number to activate their cost-of-living adjustments for Social Security benefits.”

“The mail looked legitimate because the scammers sent letters that included the Social Security Administration letterhead,” she added. “But no one needs to call a toll-free number or take any action to receive cost-of-living adjustments on Social Security benefits.” That 5.9 percent cost-of-living adjustment (COLA), which the Social Security Administration (SSA) approved last fall, is automatically calculated into all payments that head out to the sixty-four million Social Security recipients.

Furthermore, it appears that fraudsters are getting more adept at knowing how to make their caller ID information more realistic. To fool their victims, scammers have even begun creating fake ID badges that many federal employees use.

“Scammers have been known to text potential victims a picture of a government badge to reassure you that they’re the real deal,” Tompor wrote. “The con artists might rattle off real ‘badge numbers’ or send emails with attachments containing personal information about a phony ‘investigation.’”

Billions Lost to Scams

More concerning is the fact that these types of scams are only expected to continue to grow in number. In fact, according to recently released Federal Trade Commission (FTC) data, consumers reported losing more than $5.8 billion to fraud in 2021—up from $3.4 billion in 2020. The typical victim of a scam lost $500. In all, nearly 2.8 million consumers filed a fraud report to the FTC last year, the highest figure on record dating back to 2001.

“The most commonly reported category [was] once again being imposter scams, followed by online shopping scams,” the agency claimed. “Prizes, sweepstakes, and lotteries; internet services; and business and job opportunities rounded out the top five fraud categories.”

IRS Concerns

The Internal Revenue Service has put out its own warning as well. The agency said fraudsters are sending out emails or text messages this tax season that appear to be from the IRS about government-issued direct payments or unemployment claims.

“With filing season underway, this is a prime period for identity thieves to hit people with realistic-looking emails and texts about their tax returns and refunds,” IRS Commissioner Chuck Rettig noted in a statement. “Watching out for these common scams can keep people from becoming victims of identity theft and protect their sensitive personal information that can be used to file tax returns and steal refunds.”

Ethen Kim Lieser is a Washington state-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.

Image: Reuters.