By Arthur Z. Schwartz
A 97-year-old Westbeth resident (name withheld for privacy), who we will call Val, an active dancer who still performs internationally, got victimized by a “Social Security” scam which has sucked in thousands of people all over the U.S. What happened to her is instructive to us all.
In early December she got a call on her home phone. “This is Social Security. Your Social Security Number has been compromised. It will be terminated unless you address the problem immediately. For help, dial 1.” So she dialed “1,” and a voice answered: “What’s your Social Security Number?” She gave her number. “And to verify, what is your name and birth date?” So she gave them the spelling of her name.
The voice told her that her Social Security Number had been used to commit a fraud in South Texas. She was told to write down her file number, and was then told that bank accounts and credit cards had been opened in her name and had been used to commit fraud. She was told that if she paid $3,000 immediately, she could avoid being sued.
Val had a life savings—she calls it her “burial fund”—of $3,000, so she asked how to make the payment. She was given instructions about how to buy an EBay card, including which store to go to. She was told that two federal agents would come to her home (she also gave out her address) the next day.
So she took out the cash, bought the Ebay cards, and waited. No one came. So she called back with her “file number.” The voice said all she had to do was scratch off the back of the card and read the number to the voice. So she did. They told her that the federal agents would come the next day.
When they didn’t come, Val went to the 6th Precinct and told her story. They told her that the Ebay cards had been emptied and that she had been scammed. They took a report and told her to call a Social Security fraud line. No one had any idea how to get her money back.
Advocates for Justice will be representing her in an effort to get Ebay to refund her money. It’s a long-shot. We are also setting up a fund in the hopes of collecting the $3,000 she lost. You can help by going to www.advocatesforjustice.net
Meanwhile, please don’t fall for this scam:
• Social Security numbers can NEVER be canceled.
• The Social Security Administration will not call you on the phone unless you have asked them to. They communicate by letter, through the U.S. Mail.
• The Social Security Administration does not deal with fraud. Fraud is an FBI issue.
• Never give out your Social Security Number or birth date on the phone unless it is to someone you trust. (The same goes for online.) These two items allow anyone to view your credit, bank accounts, and other personal information. If you are applying for a credit card or mortgage, do it by mail or at a bank.
• If anyone ever asks you to put cash on a card—from CVS, Ebay, or any other merchant—do not give the card number out to someone you don’t know.
Fraud costs Americans, especially older Americans, more than a billion dollars a year. Be on guard.