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Two Common Government Employee Impersonation Scams: What to Watch For

One of the biggest threats that taxpayers are facing these days is an aggressive scam where criminals call victims and pretend to be IRS agents. The goal? To steal money.

All year but especially during tax filing season, the IRS will see a big surge in the number of scam calls, which tell victims that they will be arrested, deported, or have their driver’s license revoked if they don’t pay a fake tax bill.

How the Scams Work

These scammers make calls to people and claim to be from the IRS. They inform the victim that they have an unpaid tax bill, that must be paid immediately, either through a prepaid debit card or wire transfer. To make this sound even more legitimate, the scammers might also send a phishing email or make robo-calls to the victims.

To get the victims to pay, and to pay quickly, they make threats, as mentioned above. On top of this, they also can alter the number they are calling from through caller ID spoofing services to make it look like the IRS is actually calling. The scammers also will use badge number and IRS titles to make themselves sound more official.

The IRS is onto these scams, of course, and it has released information to remind taxpayers to be aware of them. For instance, a report from the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, TIGTA, states that there are more than 12,000 people who have paid more than $63 million due to these phone scams over the past few years.

Recognizing an IRS Scam

There are certain things that the IRS will never do, so if you see any of these things, or you are asked to them, you can be sure that it’s a scam.

The IRS will NEVER:

  • Threaten to bring in local police for not paying your tax bill
  • Ask you to pay via a gift card or wire transfer
  • Demand that taxes are paid without question or the opportunity to appeal
  • Ask for debit or credit card numbers over the phone
  • Call about an unexpected refund
  • Call to collect money without first sending a tax bill

If you get a call from the “IRS” asking for any of this, hang up.

There are Social Security Administration Scams Out There, Too

The IRS is not the only government agency plagued by scams. People are also getting scammed by people claiming to be from the Social Security Administration, or SSA. The goal here is to try to get your Social Security number.

Basically, someone will call you and claim to be from the SSA in an attempt to collect your personal information, including your Social Security number. If you get a call like this, you should definitely not engage with the caller, nor should you give them any money or personal information.

One of the ways that scammers are so good at getting this information is that they try to trick their victims by saying their Social Security number has been suspended due to suspicious activity, or that it has been connected to a crime. They will ask the victim to confirm their SSN in order to reactivate it.

Sometimes, they might even go further with this and tell the victim that their bank account is about to be seized, but they can keep the money safe…by putting it on a gift card, and then sending the code to the scammer.

You might wonder why people fall for this, but it really is easy for these scammers to change their phone number to show the same number as the SSA on caller ID. But this is a fake number…it’s not really the Social Security Administration.

There is also the fact that the scammers will say that someone has used your personal Social Security number to apply for a credit card, and because of this, you could lose your Social Security benefits. They also might say that your bank account is close to being seized, and you must withdraw your money or wire it to a “safe account,” which is, of course, the account of the scammer.

Here’s some of the details about these scams that you need to know:

  • Your Social Security number won’t be suspended. You never have to verify your number to the SSA, either and the agency can’t just seize your bank account.
  • The SSA will never call you about taking your benefits or tell you that you must wire money to them. If you are asked for money from the SSA, it is a scam.
  • The SSA’s number is 1-800-772-1213, but scammers are using this to appear on caller ID. So, it looks legitimate. So, if you get a call from this number, hang up and call it back. This way, you can be sure you are talking about the SSA and get the information you need…or find out that someone was trying to scam you.

Do not give your Social Security number to anyone over the phone or via email…also, don’t give your credit card number or bank account number to anyone over the phone or via email.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Facebook Wants my Social Security Number!

WTH Facebook? Generally,  I don’t have a problem giving out my SSN. That might seem contrary to the advice I give, but frankly, our SSNs are everywhere and if my insurance company needs it, I’ll generally just question them on it, maybe resist a bit, and if they insist, and I need that insurance policy, I’ll cough it up.

facebook security

My identity in regards to “new account fraud” is protected via a credit freeze and I also have identity theft protection in place. So between the two, I’m pretty locked down. This is the advice I give everyone. So I’m generally not alarmed or concerned when asked for my SSN.

BUT, today friggin Facebook asked for it and of all the company’s or government agency’s on the planet to ask for this level of personal identifying sensitive information, Facebook is the world’s single most notorious abuser of privacy in the history of the world.

There have been countless breaches and privacy issues with Facebook and this is so over the top I can’t even believe they have the nuts to ask for a copy of my Social Security card.

Here’s how it played out….An email came in from Facebook subject line “Your sales are on hold”  with the message:

Hi Robert Siciliano: Security Awareness Fraud & Personal Security Expert,

When Robert Siciliano: Security Awareness Fraud & Personal Security Expert’s shop was set up, Robert Siciliano’s information was entered. To help keep Facebook secure, we need to confirm the identity of people representing a business on Facebook or Instagram.

Your sales have been temporarily put on hold until we can confirm Robert’s information. This is a standard process and should only take a few minutes to complete.

Once you confirm Robert’s information, you’ll be able to receive payments again.

Thanks,
The Facebook Team

WTH?!! OK, sure. So I sell my books on my Facebook page and e-commerce is involved. There’s a tax thing going on here. But they aren’t asking for my EIN or are engaging me in a formal process to vet my viability as a tax payer. They are asking for a copy of my SSN in the form of a scan to “verify” me!

I clicked a link on Facebook to see where this debacle would take me and see here:

So I clicked “Contact Us” to voice my frustration and my response was:

And I’ll repeat: “Screw off. I’m not sending Facebook a copy of my SSN card. WTH is wrong with you? What are my other options?

Stay tuned for how this BS turns out.

To be continued. Robert.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

New Phone Scam Scares with Social Security Sham

We all get scam phone calls, but the newest one is meant to scare. When you pick up the phone, you get a message that your Social Security number is suspended due to suspicious activity, and then prompts the victim to speak with an agent to get help.

The FTC makes something very clear: your Social Security number cannot be suspended for any reason, so any call that states your SSN is under suspension is a scam. What they are really trying to do is to trick you into giving them your actual Social Security number along with information such as your birthday and bank account number. 

This scam is just a tricky variation of a scammer’s trick that often works. In this case, they are trying to scare you first, and then offer to help…but in reality, these scammers are trying to steal your information.

Remember These Social Security Facts

If you get a call about your Social Security number, you should remember the following:

  • The Social Security Administration only calls from one number: 800-772-1213.
  • A Social Security Number cannot ever be suspended.
  • The Social Security Administration won’t ever threaten an arrest.
  • You will probably NEVER get a call from the SSA.

Also, of course, remember this: NEVER give your SSN to someone who contacts you that you don’t know.

The Scam

There are a few variations of this scam. The first is that they call and say that your SSN is suspended due to suspicious activity. They then say, if you want to know more about the case, press 1. When you do, of course, you are connected to an agent who is trained to get your information.

Another variation of this scam is a bit more aggressive. In this case, it states that law enforcement has suspended your Social Security number because of suspicious activity. You are advised to call a toll-free number immediately and verify your SSN. The scam also claims that if you do not call the number, an arrest warrant will be issued, and you, of course, would be arrested. Though not everyone will get one of these calls, if you do, you should definitely pay attention. Again, the SSA would never suspend a Social Security number, nor would it threaten to arrest you. It’s also good practice to never give you SSN to anyone who asks for it over the phone. Instead, hang up and go on with your day.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

How to Protect You Frequent Flier Miles NOW

Social Security numbers and credit card numbers are not the only types of data that hackers are after. Now, they are looking at frequent flyer accounts, and they are stealing reward miles, and then selling them online.

How do Hackers Steal Frequent Flyer Miles?

As with other types of ID theft, hackers use info that they have illegally obtained to access frequent flyer accounts. With more data breaches happening than ever before, hundreds of millions of records are exposed, and thus, hackers have great access to the personal info they need to get into these accounts.

What do Hackers Do with Frequent Flyer Miles?

It is hard for hackers to use these miles on their own because often, the travel has to be booked in the name of the owner. However, it is very easy to transfer these miles to other accounts or to use the miles to purchase other rewards. Usually, no ID is needed for a transfer like this. This is also difficult to track because hackers use the dark web and VPNs to remain anonymous.

Hackers also sell these miles, and they catch a pretty penny. For airlines like British Airways, Virgin Atlantic, and Delta, they can get hundreds, or even thousands of dollars for their work.

In addition to transferring these miles from one account to another, hackers are also selling the account’s login information. Once someone buys this, they can now get into the owner’s account and do what they want with the miles.

Protecting Your Frequent Flyer Miles

There are some things that you can do to protect your frequent flyer miles. You should check your frequent flyer accounts regularly using your airlines mobile app. Change all your airline passwords and never re-use passwords and set up a different password for each account.

Other things that you can do include the following:

  • Protect your personal information by making sure every online account has a unique and difficult to guess password.
  • Use a dark web scan. This will show you if any personal information is out on the dark web.
  • If you do find that your miles have been stolen, it also is probable that your personal information has been compromised, too. Monitor your credit report and check it often for anything that looks odd. This is a big sign of an issue.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Beware of the Social Security Administration Employee Scam

There is a new Social Security scam in the news, and you should definitely know about it. The Acting Inspector General of Social Security, released a statement that warns people of this new scheme. Basically, scammers are impersonating Social Security Administration employees.

The scam started out fairly small and localized, but now, people from across the country are reporting that they are getting calls from people stating that they are from the Social Security Administration. The caller attempts to get personal information from the person they call including address and banking information.

Here’s How the Scam Works

Almost all of these calls are coming from a 323 area code, but don’t think for a second they won’t change this up. The caller says that they are an SSA employee, and sometimes tells the victim that they are getting a cost of living adjustment, so their benefits will be higher. Many callers believe this, of course, so when the scammer asks them to verify things such as their name, their birthday, their Social Security number, and even the name of their parents, they gladly do it to get an increase in their benefits. Once the scammer gets the information, they then contact the SSA and change the victim’s account information so that the benefits now go into a different account. Then, they can collect the cash.

Currently, the Social Security administration does contact people by phone in certain cases. However, the person usually knows that they should be expecting a call. It is also possible that an SSA employee might ask a person to verify information. So, none of this really seems unusual to anyone who has dealt with the SSA.

What to Do if You Get a Call

Hang up. Plain and simple. If you get a call from the Social Security Administration, you should report it immediately to 1-800-269-0271. You can also report it online.

It is also very important to be cautious, and you should avoid giving any information, such as your bank account number or Social Security number, to anyone who calls you. To check if it is a legitimate call from the SSA, tell the person calling that you are worried about scams, and ask if you can call them back. A legitimate SSA employee should be perfectly fine with this. Then, look up the number yourself. Don’t call a number that they give, no matter what. Finally, you can also contact the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213 if you have any question about any text, letter, email, or call that you get.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

A “Credit Profile Number” is a fake SSN, and it Works

Cyber criminals are constantly trying to stay one step ahead of the good guys, and there is now another scam out there that you should know about: synthetic identity theft. Basically, the criminals take information from someone, and then make up the rest. They also often use fake Social Security numbers, called CPNs, or “credit profile numbers,” or names.

This type of identity theft shows us that our credit system is more vulnerable than we might think. Basically, it is easy to create a credit file on these identities, and once they have that, they can get a credit card or loan.

Of course, using a CPN like this on an application for credit card or loan is illegal, but lenders currently don’t have a conclusive way of distinguishing a real Social Security number from one of these fake ones. The Social Security Administration generates SSNs randomly. This makes it difficult for a lender to notice a fake one. Technically, a lender can contact the SSA and cross-check, but most of them don’t. Why? Because the SSA requires a handwritten signature from the person who has that SSN, and this is a pain in the neck for lenders.

So, of course, the best thing to do is to create a way for lenders to instantly check to see if a Social Security number is valid or not, and as of now, they do not have the capacity to do this. Lenders do, however, use their own fraud-detection tools, but these requests for credit still fall through the cracks.

This practice also has created more open windows for fraudsters, because they know that the system is vulnerable. It’s true that many lenders won’t accept a credit application from someone with no history of borrowing, which is the case with a CPN, but some still do, and the more activity the file sees, the more likely it is that credit will be given. Once credit is approved, a full credit report is created. Though it likely won’t be a high amount of credit, many lenders take a chance on new borrowers, and at a minimum, extend a couple of hundred dollars. Some people will even get a card that has, say a $300 limit, and use the card for a time. Once they establish a good payment history, they can get a credit increase, and that’s where the fun really begins.

This is just one more scam that you should be aware of, and one more reason to keep your private and personal information safe.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Mobile Phone Numbers Are as Sensitive as Your Social Security Number

All of us have cell phones these days, and if you are like the vast majority of the population, you access everything from social media to banking information right from your mobile phone. However, if you do this, which everyone does, you are putting yourself in the position to get hacked. With only your mobile phone number and a couple other pieces of information, a hacker can get into these accounts and your life could drastically change.

How does this work? If a hacker already has your mobile phone number, they can get other information, such as you address, birthday, or even the last four digits of your Social Security number, through social engineering schemes via email or on social. Once they have this information, it’s like handing your phone over to them and letting them do as they please, including accessing your accounts.

The scam may not even begin with you, it may begin with the mobile phone companies themselves. There have been many incidents where the carriers are scammed into handing over troves of personal identifying information to scammers posing as the victim. In many cases the phone companies are even allowing the scammers to get phones with the actual victims phone number by transferring everything to a new phone the perpetrator charges to the victims account.

Here are some things that you can do to keep your mobile phone number safe:

Use Your Passcode – You can and should put a passcode on your phone, you should definitely do it. This isn’t totally foolproof, but does give you an extra level of protection.

Add a Passcode – Your mobile carriers online account should have an additional second passcode to make any changes to your account. This additional passcodes works with both the web and calling customer service. Nothing happens unless this additional passcode is presented.

Disable Online Access to Any Mobile Phone Account – This is frustrating, of course, but it certainly can protect you. If you need to change your account, you should go to the store or call your provider.

Use Google Voice – Google Voice is an excellent choice for many, and you can even forward your current number to your Google Voice number. This helps to mask any call you make, which means no one can have access to your real number.

Access Your Cell Phone Account with a Carrier-Specific Email Address – Most of us use our email addresses and phone numbers to access our online accounts. However, you should really have three separate emails. One should be your primary email address, one should be only for sensitive accounts, like your bank or social media accounts, and one for your mobile phone carrier. This means, even if your main email is hacked, the hackers cannot get into your other accounts.

Talk to Your Carrier – Consider asking your carrier to make a note in your account to require a photo ID and special passcode before any changes are made. Though it’s possible that a hacker could pose as you with a fake ID, the chances are quite low that this would happen.

Use Complex Passwords – One of the best ways to protect online accounts is to use complex passwords. Or at least a different password for every account. You should also use a password manager. If you don’t, make sure your passwords are very random and very difficult to guess like “58&hg#Sr4.”

Do Not Be Truthful – You also might want to lie when answering your security questions. These are easy to guess or discover. For instance, it’s probably easy to find out your mother’s maiden name. So, make it up…just make sure you remember it!

Don’t Use Your Phone Number for Important Accounts – Also, make sure that you aren’t using your phone number for any important account. Instead, use that Google Voice number. 

Use a Password Generator – This is part of two factor authentication. Protect yourself by using a one time password generator, as part of a two-factor authentication process. It may be your mobile or they look like keyfobs and produce a new password very frequently. The only way to get the password is to access the generator or your mobile.

Use a Physical Security Key – You should also think about using a physical security key. To use one, you must enter your password into the computer, and then enter a device into the computer’s USB port. This proves that you are the account owner. So, even if a hacker gets your password, they must also have the physical security key to access the account.

Think About Biometrics – Finally, to really protect your accounts, when available, use biometrics. You can buy biometric scanners that read your fingerprints, your iris, or even recognize your voice. When you use these, you cannot access any account until you scan your finger, eye, or speak.

Yes, it’s true that some of these seem time consuming, it is much more time consuming to have to deal with getting hacked or a stolen identity. So, take these steps to remain as safe as possible.

Robert Siciliano personal security and identity theft expert and speaker is the author of Identity Theft Privacy: Security Protection and Fraud Prevention: Your Guide to Protecting Yourself from Identity Theft and Computer Fraud. See him knock’em dead in this Security Awareness Training video.

Never put these Docs in your Wallet

Yes, believe it or not, you CAN get by in life with a wallet that just has a little cash, a store card or two, one to two credit cards and your ID.  Unless you absolutely need your insurance card or Social Security card, leave those items at home.

1DFor years now, wallets have been on the market that you can stuff everything into, save for the kitchen sink. This doesn’t mean you must carry a ridiculous bulging wallet everywhere you go.

Now you may not mind having to dig through your wallet for five minutes to retrieve things because there’s so much stuff in there, but do you know who actually would enjoy this?

A crook who specializes in identity theft. With just your Social Security card (come on already, just memorize the number), a crook could open up credit lines in your name and make your life a nightmare.

Now you may think it doesn’t matter because your wallet will never be lost or stolen. Everyone must lose their wallet at some point in their lives? But what if you’re in an accident? What if you’re jumped on the street? What if someone brazenly approaches you, grabs the wallet out of your hands and runs?

If my wallet is lost or stolen I won’t care because there’s nothing in my wallet that the thief could easily use to steal my identity, nor is there anything I couldn’t easily name or easily replace.

Keep the following items out of your wallet:

  • Anything with your Social Security number; again, just memorize it already.
  • Home address
  • Keys
  • PINs and passwords (if you need an assortment of these to function while away from home, use an encrypted app—assuming you have a smartphone).
  • Checks
  • Credit cards you won’t be using on any given day you’re out in the community (though one emergency credit card at all times is a smart move).
  • Birth certificate
  • Credit card receipts
  • Medical cards unless you are going to the doctor
  • Store cards unless you are going to that store

Make photo copies of all docs in your wallet and upload them to your secure email account. Consider an app like “Key Ring” and enter the cards into your mobile device. Put ALL your loyalty cards there and copies of most cards you might need in a pinch.

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to TheBestCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.

Stolen Social Security number? Don’t Worry!

Just when you think it was safe to believe your Social Security number can’t get stolen…news breaks of the Anthem data breach. Over 80,000,000 patient records were compromised, including SSNs and home addresses. Like a meteor striking the earth, a disastrous ripple effect is underway, with patients getting hit up with phishing e-mails.

1PIf you ever suspect your SSN has been stolen, some suggest contacting the IRS and Social Security Administration and notify them of your situation. The thief can do bad things with your number, but if you contact these agencies, can you really protect yourself from that? I’m not sure these agencies can really do anything based on the volume of fraud happening today.

So what should you do to guard against ID theft while you’re still ahead?

Your credit report should have a fraud alert placed on it. This way, lenders and creditors will be stricter about identifying you as the authentic applicant. Thus, a thief will probably flunk these extra steps. Contact either Equifax, Experian or Transunion and they’ll place the 90-day fraud alert. You can also ask for an extension. Consider re-establishing the fraud alert every 90 days. The fraud alert will net you a copy of your credit report. Examine it carefully.

Watch your credit like a hawk. If nothing happens during those 90 days, this doesn’t mean you’re in the clear. A thief may act after 90 days, or, just as a baseline good practice, you should still always monitor your credit. Self-monitoring your credit involves either buying your credit report as often as you’d like or getting it free, quarterly at AnnualCreditReport.com.

Credit freeze. A more secure measure is to freeze your credit, but this means you too can’t do anything like apply for a refinance on your house until it’s “thawed”. But if you don’t foresee needing to do that or open new lines of credit in the near future, then you’ll get more peace of mind with a credit freeze.

If an unforeseen need to apply for a loan surfaces, you can unfreeze your credit. Just keep good notes regarding the user/pass and web address to quickly thaw your credit. A credit freeze/thaw requires a one-time fee of $5-$15.00. Cheap and effective.

Identity theft protection. This is a no brainer. For $100-$300 annually for an individual or family of 4, your identity is being monitored 24/7 by professionals who will also restore your identity in the event of loss. Check with the companies Terms of Service and their features/benefits to determine what the will and will not protect against.

Be smart. Though some hackers are amazingly ingenious and subtle with their schemes, other tricks are so obvious that it’s astounding that anyone who’s smart enough to use a computer could fall for them.

A college degreed professional can be so caught up in the latest trash or tragic news about a very high profile celebrity that they could be lured right into the palm of a ruthless scammer: The bait is a link to an exclusive interview with the celebrity’s mother. Hah! Click the link, and you’ll become the mouse in a trap.

  • Never click links inside e-mails, even if it seems that the sender is from someone you know.
  • Don’t even bother opening e-mails with sensationalistic subject lines like “Exclusive Video of Bruce Jenner in Mini Skirt.”
  • When using various online accounts, see if they offer two-factor authentication; then use it.
  • Use different passwords for all of your accounts, and make them long and unique, not “123Kitty.”
  • Use antivirus and anti-malware and keep them updated; also use a firewall.
  • Shred all personal documents before putting them in the rubbish.

Never give out your SSN except for job applications, loan applications, credit card applications and other “big stuff.”

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing identity theft prevention. Disclosures.

SSN and Its Afterlife

What’s one billion? That’s about the number of possible permutations of the Social Security number. Which begs the question: What happens to an SSN when someone kicks the bucket?

8DCurrently, SSN’s are never repeated when they’re issued by the Social Security Administration. As of June 2011, the SSA made the issuance entirely random (previously, for example, the first three numbers were determined by place of birth).

With nearly a billion permutations, there’s no point in any number surviving the holder’s death and being reissued. Now in theory, the combinations will eventually run out, because eventually, a billion people will have been born in the United States. But this isn’t exactly in the near future. Why worry?

Nevertheless, some people like to plan way ahead. Maybe this scenario can be mitigated with a 10-digit number. Maybe numbers will stay at nine but be recycled. But for now, your number is as unique as your DNA. But, unlike DNA, a SSN can be used fraudulently.

The three credit bureaus maintain a list of the deceased based on data from the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File Index. Sometimes it takes months for bureaus to update their databases with the Social Security Administration’s Death Master File Index.

Here’s how to avoid identity theft of the deceased:

  • Report the death yourself by calling the Social Security Administration at 1-800-772-1213.
  • Contact the credit bureaus directly to report a death and request the information to be recorded immediately.
  • Right now, before anyone perishes, get the person a credit freeze. Upon death (as in life), the person’s Social Security number will be useless to the thief.
  • Invest in identity theft protection. This is a layer of security that monitors one’s information, including Social Security number, in the wild. Have it activated for six months to a year after death.
  • The Identity Theft Resource Center suggests, “Immediately notify credit card companies, banks, stockbrokers, loan/lien holders and mortgage companies of the death. The executor or surviving spouse will need to discuss all outstanding debts. If you close the account, ask them to list it as: ‘Closed. Account holder is deceased.’ If there is a surviving spouse or other joint account holder, make sure to notify the company the account needs to be listed in that surviving person’s name alone. They may require a copy of the death certificate to do this, as well as permission from the survivor.”

Robert Siciliano is an identity theft expert to BestIDTheftCompanys.com discussing  identity theft prevention.