Senate Aging Committee Shines Spotlight on Social Security Scam—the #1 Reported Scam to Fraud Hotline

Senators heard testimony from victim who lost $150,000

SSA Commissioner and SSA IG were among those testifying about this scheme that resulted in nearly $38 million in reported losses in 2019

 

The Committee also released its 2020 Fraud Book outlining the top 10 reported scams

 

Click HERE for Senator Collins’ opening statement

Click HERE for Senator Casey’s opening statement

 

Click HERE for a copy of the 2020 Fraud Book

 

Washington, D.C.—Machel Andersen was babysitting her grandchildren when she noticed a disturbing voicemails from someone who appeared to be from the Social Security Administration (SSA).  The caller said that her Social Security number had been compromised and a vehicle registered in her name was found at a crime scene.  Moreover, she was told that her Social Security number had been used to set up bank accounts linked to a drug cartel.

 

At a Senate Aging Committee hearing led by U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Bob Casey (D-PA) on the Social Security scam today, Mrs. Andersen explained how the purported SSA official handed her over to a fake DEA investigator who exploited her fear and distress over this information.  He instructed her to wire all of her available assets—amounting to more than $150,000—to an offshore account that would supposedly be protected while action was taken against the drug cartel.  She was warned that if she did not cooperate, she would be assumed to be conspiring with the drug cartel and arrested.  Over the course of several days, the scammer continued to manipulate Mrs. Andersen with a variety of threats and official-looking documents.

 

After Mrs. Andersen sent $150,000, the con artist told her she needed to mortgage her home and pay him 45 percent of her home's value.  She was on the verge of borrowing $60,000 from a friend when she decided to verify the scammer’s story online.  At that point, she realized that she was the victim of a scam.

 

Mrs. Andersen is one of the hundreds of thousands of Americans who have reported being affected by the Social Security scam, a number that has grown at an alarming rate.  In 2019 alone, Americans reported losing close to $38 million to this scam, according to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC).  Recently, the scam has skyrocketed to become the most-reported fraud to the FTC and the Aging Committee’s Fraud Hotline (1 -855-303-9470).  Since creating an online form less than three months ago, the Social Security Administration’s Office of Inspector General has received more than 115,000 complaints about the scam.

 

As Chairman and Ranking Member of the Senate Aging Committee, Senators Collins and Casey are committed to preventing more Americans, particularly seniors, from being targeted by this ruthless scam.  Today’s hearing, titled, “That’s Not the Government Calling: Protecting Seniors from the Social Security Impersonation Scam,” examined how the Social Security scam operates, explained what is currently being done to address it, and explored what more can be done to stop it. 

 

“Reports of the Social Security scam barely registered as recently as 2017.  But then it began to take off – cracking the top 10 scams reported to the Committee’s Fraud Hotline in 2018, and becoming the number one reported scam in 2019,” said Senator Collins.  “The emotional and psychological tolls for those who have lost hard-earned life savings are beyond measure.  Educating people—particularly older Americans who are more likely to be targeted—and ramping up the government’s response are key to defeating this scam.”

 

“The Social Security impersonation scam capitalizes off of hardworking Americans. Seniors who depend on Social Security benefits to meet their needs are likely to lose an entire month’s income if they were to fall victim to this scam. This is unacceptable. We must not only be concerned for the sake of individuals targeted, but also for the integrity of the federal departments and agencies tasked with serving all of us,” said Senator Casey.

 

In addition to Mrs. Machel Andersen, witnesses at today’s hearing included SSA Commissioner Andrew Saul, who provided an overview of his agency’s efforts to address this scam, which include SSA’s public awareness campaign, associated changes to the agency’s public-facing voicemail messages, and the new online scam reporting form. 

 

SSA Inspector General Gail Ennis described the scam’s techniques and trends and revealed the scam’s impact on day-to-day operations.  She also spoke about the actions taken by the SSA Office of the Inspector General to investigate and disrupt the scam. 

 

Justin Groshon, the Manager of the Social Security Office in Saco, Maine, testified in his capacity as a member of the National Council of Social Security Management Associations (NCSSMA).  Mr. Groshon told the Committee about his experience with the scam, including his interactions with members of the public who have been targeted. 

 

Nora Dowd-Eisenhower of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, the Executive Director of the Mayor’s Commission on Aging, discussed how this scam can affect seniors and the additional ways that the government and industry can help protect them from becoming victims.

 

Click HERE to read their testimonies.

 

The Social Security scam generally involves criminals impersonating Social Security staff and calling victims to fraudulently take money from them or obtain their personally identifiable information. In one iteration of this scam, victims are told that their Social Security number has been suspended and that there is a warrant for their arrest.  The fraudsters claim they need additional information from victims to verify their identity and often demand immediate payment through cash, wire transfers, or gift cards. 

 

Senator Collins led a letter to the Social Security Administration (SSA), and Senators Collins and Casey have led letters to the Elder Justice Coordinating Committee, SSA Office of the Inspector General and the FTC to request information about the steps these agencies are taking to address the Social Security scam and to urge agency leaders to take action to protect seniors. 

 

This was the 25th hearing the Aging Committee has held in the past seven years to examine scams affecting older Americans.