FROM PORTLAND FBI
Here in Oregon, the FBI is seeing an increase in the number of people who are reporting that they have lost money to crooks who convince them that someone has stolen their Social Security number.
It often starts with a phone call by someone who claims to be a law enforcement or government official. That caller tells the victim that someone is using the victim’s Social Security number to commit crimes. After some discussion back and forth, the caller agrees that the victim isn’t the person committing whatever the crime is and he says he wants to help the victim protect him or herself. The victim is told to avoid discussing the situaiton with anyone until the caller can get an (imaginary) arrest warrant dismissed.
In the meantime, the caller convinces the victim that the victim’s bank accounts and credit cards are all tied to the victim’s Social Security number, and that the victim risks losing all of his or her money if he or she doesn’t take action. Sometimes – but not always – the caller brings in a second crook at this point, allegedly to help the victim protect his or her money and get a replacement Social Security number. Often, they will move the conversation to an alleged secret phone connection so that the victim can feel they are safely transmitting private banking information to these helpful “government officials.”
In some cases, the crooks will convince the victim to max-out his debit and credit cards – or empty his bank account – to buy gift cards with every available cent. Once the victim does this, they ask the victim to send them pictures of the gift card numbers and validation codes via a secure messaging software application (app). The crooks say that they will then transfer the victim’s funds into a secure account that won’t be affected by whatever fraudulent activity they’ve detected on the victim’s real Social Security number.
Of course, the whole thing is a scam and the victim ends up giving out critical personal banking information as well as transferring the funds directly to the people running the scam.
Here’s how to protect yourself:
If you receive such a call, assume it is a scam. No government official or law enforcement officer will ever ask you for personal banking information or money over the phone. Also, legitimate officials will never ask you to communicate via encrypted messaging apps.
Do not take pictures of, or transmit info about, gift cards online, especially to people or companies you don’t know. If you are concerned about fraudulent use of your identity, you should hang up and make contact with verified government or law enforcement officials. If it relates to your Social Security number, make sure to report any fraud to Social Security as well.
As always, if you have been victimized by this or any over-the-phone or computer fraud, be sure to report it to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center on line at www.ic3.gov or call your local FBI office.