I-TEAM: Have you gotten the Social Security scam call? What's being done to protect those nine precious digits.

Published: Nov. 11, 2019 at 12:20 PM EST
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Monday, Nov. 11, 2019

News 12 at 6 O’Clock/NBC at 7

AUGUSTA, Ga. (WRDW/WAGT) -- The phone rings, an automated voice tells you there is a suspension notice against your Social Security number. The voice on the other end says they are with the Social Security Administration, and while it's an obvious scam, it's an indicator of the relentlessly growing scam risks.

When Social Security calls, you want to listen, but the line of the other end is trying to reel in your trust. But here's the thing, Social Security Administration is never going to call and beg for your information.

Yet, thousands of identity thieves keep making these thousands of calls: "Hi. This call is from Social Security Administration. The nature behind this call is to inform you about a suspension notice we have received against your Social Security number by the Federal Crime and Investigation Department. We need to talk to you as soon as possible."

"To me, it's obviously a scam, you've got that recorded computer tone," Gigi Turner with the Better Business Bureau, said.

While the fake voice may be easy to discern, some are still having a hard time detecting scams before their identity is no longer just their own.

"I have no idea to tell you the truth,” one 71-year-old victim said. "I got a text message from my card and it said that my balance was below $25 and I was like that can't be."

Perhaps it's a bit fitting that an Augusta woman we spoke to now wants to hide her identity after it was just stolen from her. But she wasn’t just robbed of her identity. The scammer swiped $1,400 from her bank account.

"But the thing that's the most frightening is that there were able to access my Social Security number,” the victim said.

They never accessed her home, never even her wallet, but she was stripped of value far more than police reports can price.

In minutes, our I-Team was able to find four victims of Social Security identity fraud in Richmond County reports. In days, we were able to account for 104 cases across the county, all within the last 5 months. We requested the number from the sheriff's office since June.

If it sounds like a lot, Turner says don't expect that number to slow down.

"Besides holidays, you're approaching where we're all getting ready for income tax season," Turner said. “The scammers’ income tax season is earlier than ours because they want to file before you."

Investigators don't know all the ways the scammers are getting Social Security numbers like in this our victim’s case, but once it's stolen, criminals often use it to begin filing your taxes while you're still recovering from the holidays.

Based off the most recent data from the BBB, 30 percent of scams now are all Social Security ones. To further quantify that, we found American lost $19 million this year alone -- that's strictly scams related to stolen Social Security numbers.

“It doesn't stop,” Turner said. “It's just a prevalent scam, ongoing. And once it attacks it comes back again and attacks a whole other group of people."

If this dim outlook isn't scary enough, it’s perhaps even worse according to the cyber experts.

"Your information could already be compromised, but it has not yet been used." Augusta University’s School of Computer and Cyber Sciences Professor Michael Nowatkowski says, "Really until your information is used, you may not realize that it's been taken."

However, part of the problem might not be the scammer hacking your security, it might be the federal security system altogether.

The Office of Inspector General partially released audit reports in October of the Social Security Administration. The first report finding the SSA's security program was "not effective", according to Department of Homeland Security standards.

The next summary findings give a bit more insight. The audit's goal was to determine whether weak spots were fixed, in an effort to avoid data breaches. The results, according to the audit, problems from 2018 were still not corrected.

It noted, "not remediating certain vulnerabilities for years may put SSA's network at risk of attack."

Once it's gone, it amounts to more than just a loss of nine digits; it's the golden gift for scammers during this season, all at the expense of yours.

The best form of protection is prevention. Experts say look into options of freezing your credit or enroll in a credit monitoring service. Once you're a victim of Social Security identity theft, or any identity theft, you can get your information back,

You would need to file a report with the local sheriff's office.

Afterward, you would need to contact the big three nationwide tax credit bureaus: TransUnion, Equifax, and Experian.

Copyright 2019 WRDW/WAGT. All rights reserved.

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