Scammers use anything they can in order to trick their targets. The con artists say that they are from government agencies such as the Social Security Administration, the IRS, and the Federal Trade Commission. Scammers have been targeting people to trick them into applying or receiving fake grants from various government agencies. The caller requests personal information to process the grant. They may ask for your date of birth, phone number, address, social security number, annual income, bank account, or other financial information. Scammers claim that the bank account information is necessary to pay a one-time processing fee. They may also state that the free money will be direct deposited or sent through a wire transfer. The aim of a grant scam is identity theft along with draining your bank account.
Callers may claim they work for a government program that gives grants to people in need. Parameters are usually vague. Some offer free money to pay bills, for educational purposes, or home improvements. Anyone who calls you out of the blue and claims to work for the government is probably a scammer. The FTC has written a guide on identifying the calls and what to do to avoid being a victim.
Following the Script
Telemarketers and scammers always have a script to follow when making phone calls. Here are some common lines con artists might use to lure you into their scams:
- You’ve been selected to receive a grant/scholarship.
- The grant/scholarship will cost a one-time processing fee.
- This grant/scholarship has a 100% money back guarantee.
- This offer is only good for today.
- I just need your credit card/bank account number to hold the grant/scholarship.
- Grants are being offered in your area.
- Small business owners are eligible for government grants.
The Government Grant Process
These are facts about how the government grant process works:
- Names of agencies and foundations offering grants are free to the public through the internet or local library.
- The only way to access federal grants is through www.grants.gov.
- Government grant applications are free.
- ALL government grant money is used for public projects, not personal use.
- The government never asks for fees of any kind.
Investigate the Grant
If you receive information online about a government grant, visit the Index of Government Agencies. All legitimate agencies are listed. Beware of callers using a similar agency name. Scammers may also invent a fake agency name such as the Federal Grants Administration. It sounds official, but the agency doesn’t exist. Legitimate agencies include:
Warning signs for fraud include:
- The caller requests immediate payment with a credit card or debit card.
- A request is made to pay using a pre-paid gift card or an iTunes card.
- The caller uses threatening language.
- The phone number is not a toll free number, e.g., 800, 888, etc.
- The scammer is calling from another country.
- The phone number registers as a spam call or Internet (VoIP) number; the latter can’t be traced.
Forms of Contact
Phone calls are the most common form of contact for government grant scams. However, scams can take place through text message, email, or social media sites.
A common text message is short and contains a link. It may look like this: “Congratulations! You are eligible to receive a free grant from the federal government. Click here: www.fakemessage.org”
Emails are more elaborate and detailed. The message claims you have been chosen for a free government grant because you signed up for a website. The email explains the grant and the fact that it’s free money. There is a website link or place to enter personal information. The signature shows the following fake information: name, agency, and a non-existent address in Washington, D.C.
Social Media Sites
Con artists use social media sites to get money from potential victims. Targets receive a private message about a free grant. The message may come through as an ad or from someone on your friends list. If you receive a message from a friend, contact the friend in a separate message asking if it’s legit. If the friend didn’t send the message, all parties should change passwords immediately.
Report Suspicious Activity
If you receive a suspicious call, hang up. Do not press 1 to be removed or give out your personal information. The caller may make threats, but do not respond. You can block calls on your iPhone or Android if the number is in the form of a standard number. Scammers use different numbers to confuse targets, so be aware of strange numbers.
Notify law enforcement via their non-emergency line if the caller makes any type of threats. You should also report the call to ftc.gov/complaint, Better Business Bureau, and [email protected]. Include the following:
- Date and time of the call.
- Content of any text messages, social media site or email.
- The name of the company used by the caller.
- The amount of the free government grant.
- The dollar amount requested along with the payment method.
- Give the caller’s phone number. Scammers use untraceable Internet phone numbers or spoof a phone number registered to the government agency. Although the numbers aren’t real, law enforcement might be able to trace them with a tracking system.
- Note any other details from the call. Be as specific as possible.
Remember, if you receive a call from a scammer, simply hang up. Do not answer any questions or give out personal information. Don’t confirm information the caller claims to have. The best way to avoid scams is to let unknown numbers go to voicemail. Don’t call back and block the phone number of any suspected scam phone call.
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).