Reports of scams to the Attorney General’s Office have skyrocketed since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic, with dollar losses at an all-time high. Scammers prey on the vulnerabilities created by the pandemic, especially loneliness and financial concerns, to try to con you into turning over your savings or personal information.

Seniors are the hardest hit by COVID-19 fraud. The largest percentage of dollar losses reported to our office since the start of the pandemic have been reported by victims age 60 and older. While many seniors have a fixed income, they often have home equity, retirement, or savings accounts which make them attractive targets for scammers.

One of the most frequently reported scams to our office involves phone calls from scammers who pose as government employees. Social Security scams are one example of these types of scams, in which scammers pose as an employee of the Social Security Administration to get you to send money or give up personal and financial data for use in identity theft. 

Here’s how it works: You may receive a robocall or personal telephone call from a scammer claiming that your social security number has been linked to criminal activity and suspended, or that your benefits have been cut off. To assist you, the scammer will ask you to confirm your social security number so they can reactivate your account or issue a new card, for a fee. Don’t fall for it! Hang up.

Employees with the Social Security Administration will not ask you to give out your personal information via phone. The Social Security Administration does not block or suspend numbers. It’s a ploy to either get money or steal your personal data.

While Social Security scams are one of our most frequently reported scams, the dollar loss is hard to quantify since many of these scams are used to steal your social security number for other forms of fraud – whether it be credit card fraud, loan or bank fraud, or unemployment fraud, to name a few.

Here are a few tips to help protect you and your loved ones from scams in the New Year:

  • Never respond to robocalls by “pressing a number” to speak to a representative. Scammers are sophisticated and can easily impersonate officials by phone. Just hang up.
  • Never give out personal identifying information by telephone.
  • Don’t fall for pressure tactics or act quickly based on fear.
  • Gift cards are for gifts. NEVER use gift cards or money-transfer services to pay callers. If a caller asks you to buy gift cards, this is a sure sign that it’s a scam!
  • Independently verify the information. If someone calls you and says you must pay them money or something bad will happen [e.g., an alleged past-due utility bill where the caller threatens to disconnect your service if you don’t pay immediately], hang up and look up the legitimate phone number of the agency who was purportedly calling you.  The only way to be sure that you aren’t talking to a scammer is for you to verify the information and call the real government agency or utility company directly.
  • Don’t pay a debt you know you don’t owe. It’s likely a scam.

The Office of Senior Protection within the Attorney General’s Office assists consumers who have been victimized by fraud and scams. We’re here to help. If someone is pressuring you to send money, talk to someone you trust – a friend, confidant, or family member before you act. You can also contact our office.

If you’ve been the victim of a scam, report it to our office online at ag.ky.gov/scams or by calling our Consumer Protection hotline at 1-888-432-9257 (select option 3).

LaDonna Koebel is the Executive Director for the Attorney General’s Office of Senior Protection and Mediation.