The world was shocked when fire broke out at the Notre-Dame de Paris, one of the most iconic cathedrals in Paris. People mourned as the centuries-old structure burned and as the spire fell while 400 firefighters fought the fire. Almost immediately, charities – real and fake– began asking for donations to rebuild the French national treasure.
A Cry for Help
Almost 13 million people visit Notre Dame each year. Builders erected the church in Paris 850 years ago. The church houses famous works of art and serves as a museum. It is no surprise that people are willing to dig into their wallets to rebuild the cathedral. Scammers scrambled to create a plan to take advantage of the fire and make some easy money. Thieves set up websites acting as charities and crowdfunding sources to trick the public. Thieves assume people don’t know that the cathedral is owned by the French government. Private citizens, businesses, and the government have already amassed billions of dollars in a fund to reconstruct the church.
Con artists play on the emotions of people in the aftermath of disaster. For every natural disaster, accident or act of terrorism, scammers are waiting to collect from the public. They ask for money through websites, social media, email and phone calls. The pleas for money are convincing and never ending. People should take steps to check out any organization before giving any money, even if it’s a good cause.
Researching Charity Organizations
Donors can research charities by logging onto The Federal Trade Commission’s list of organizations that can verify if a charity is real. You can also read news on charities. The article Before Giving to a Charity shows how to donate wisely through social media.
People think that donations are tax deductible. They might give more money because of the deduction. However, donations made to foreign organizations aren’t usually tax deductible. Money given to individuals or crowdfunding sites aren’t tax deductible, either. The IRS can help determine which organizations are tax deductible. You should use the IRS’s Tax Exempt Organization Search to check eligibility.
How to Avoid Scammers
Telemarketers can be pushy when they ask for money. Companies and scammers use robocalls to make it harder to avoid the demands. If you receive a call from someone asking for money to help rebuild Notre Dame, ask a lot of questions. What is the full name and address of the organization? How will the money be spent? Does the organization use the money for admin costs or marketing expenses? If you are unsure of the person calling, hang up and research the charity online. If the calls continue, use an app to block unwanted numbers from your phone.
How to Report Fraud
If you think you’ve been scammed by a fake charity, report it to the FTC’s Complaint Assistant. Give as much information as possible. Second, if you have used a bank account or credit card to make the donation, contact the company right away to block the payment. Lastly, you should also report the event to your state’s Attorney General.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) reports a large increase in phone scams. Senior citizens are targets for scammers claiming to be from the SSA. The reason for the call? To tell the senior his/her Social Security number has been suspended. The caller states there has been criminal or fraudulent activity with the card. The number is suspended to protect the real card holder.
“They say to call a number to clear it up — where they’ll ask you for personal information,” according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). “The caller pretends to be protecting you from a scam while he’s trying to lure you into one.”
The SSA does not suspend Social Security numbers. Not for any reason. There is no cost for a card.
If you get a call from an alleged SSA representative, use caller ID or a free reverse phone book app for iPhone to verify the number. Some scammers use spoofing to mirror the SSA’s customer service number — 1-800-772-1213 — to take the scam a step further.
Social Security Scam Stats
Social Security phone scams are the number one type of fraud reported to the Federal Trade Commission and the Social Security Administration. In 2018, the SSA received more than 63,000 complaints regarding social security phone scams. As a result, the median amount lost by seniors was $1,484.00 In 2019, the National Council of Aging listed Social Security phone scams as one of the top three frauds targeting seniors.
“We are taking action to raise awareness and prevent scammers from harming Americans,” said Andrew Saul, Commissioner of Social Security. “I am deeply troubled that our country has not been able to stop these crooks from deceiving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
SSA Warns Citizens
The Social Security Administration works around the clock to stop scam calls.
“Unfortunately, scammers will try anything to mislead and harm innocent people, including scaring them into thinking that something is wrong with their Social Security account and they might be arrested,” said Acting Inspector General of Social Security, Gale Stallworth Ennis. “I encourage everyone to remain watchful of these schemes and to alert family members and friends of their prevalence. We will continue to track these scams and warn citizens so that they can stay several steps ahead of these thieves.”
Officials at the Social Security Administration and the Office of the Inspector General created a new online form to gather data that will be analyzed for trends. The OIG will use the data to develop investigative leads to thwart scammers and reduce fraud.
“We are taking action to raise awareness and prevent scammers from harming Americans,” Saul said. “I am deeply troubled that our country has not been able to stop these crooks from deceiving some of the most vulnerable members of our society.”
Saul and Ennis encourage the public to use the new online form to report scams including robocalls and live callers, as well as text, email, and in-person scams. The form requires people to create a Personal Identification Number (PIN) in case the OIG contacts the reporter for verification.
“Awareness is our best hope to thwart the scammers,” said Ennis. “Tell your friends and family about them and report them to us when you receive them, but most importantly, just hang up and ignore the calls.”
Fraudsters make threatening phone calls to get people to give out their information. The SSA says the tactics are “increasingly threatening.” The caller threatens legal action if the person fails to give certain information. The agency does not threaten people or demand specific information over the phone. If a representative of the SSA calls, they will never threaten to arrest someone refusing to give out information.
Friendly Service Phone Calls
Fraudsters use different ways to get personal information. Instead of threats, some use a friendly approach. They may offer to sell to the person services already provided by the SSA at no charge. The caller offers to send a new Social Security card, enroll family members in the program, or provide records of contributions and expected future income.
Social Security Fraud by Mail
Scammers may use old school ways to create a scam. While most use phones or technology (email, text, etc.), some send mail to potential victims. One scheme involves direct mail aimed at seniors. The senior gets a letter in the mail offering an additional check. The senior fills out a form and will get an extra check if he pays a filing fee. The form asks for the member’s Social Security number and payment. While the SSA will send mail, it usually regards a change in benefits. The letter will never request payment or personal information.
The SSA has listed a series of things to look out for when dealing with a potential scam.
- The SSA rarely, if ever, calls people on the phone. They communicate by mail.
- The SSA will not make threats.
- Do not give them your bank account number.
- Don’t give out your Social Security number.
- Ignore demands from automated calls.
- Never give or confirm information such as birthdate, cell phone number or address.
- Don’t assume the call, text or email is legitimate.
- Check all phone numbers using an iPhone reverse cell search app.
- Do not talk to the person on the phone.
- Ignore callers that claim to be from the IRS or FBI. They may claim suspicious activity on your account.
- Tell you that your Social Security number is suspended.
- Contact you to demand an immediate payment with no chance to appeal.
- Ask you for credit or debit card numbers over the phone.
- Require a specific type of debt repayment, e.g., prepaid debit card, a retail gift card, or cash.
- Promise a Social Security benefit approval or increase for a fee.
- Block phone numbers you suspect to be fake.
- Store your Social Security card in a safe place.
- Check your credit reports on a regular basis. Look for possible identity theft.
- Do not call back an unknown number claiming to belong to the SSA.
- Contact government agencies directly in person. Use verified phone numbers, or through their website.
- Visit My Social Security at ssa.gov to verify your information.
Reporting a Scam
If someone has tried to steal your personal information by pretending to be from a government agency like the SSA, IRS or FBI, report it to the FTC. Also, report suspicious activity to local law enforcement and the Social Security Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or online. You may also call the OIG hotline (1-800-269-0271).