NYPD warns of Social Security phone scams after uptick in reports

NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The NYPD is warning the public to be on guard against scam phone calls from those who falsely claim to be from the Social Security Administration or a local, state or federal law enforcement agency.

The department released a new public awareness video to inform New Yorkers of the scam and to remind them to hang up the phone.

They say millions of dollars have been stolen by scammers who prey on victims by exploiting the trusted reputation of government agencies, and in 2019 so far, the NYPD has received over 200 complaints with losses totaling more than $2 million.

In 2018, the NYPD received only three similar complaints.

Part of the scam involves caller ID showing the Social Security Administration, and New Yorkers of all ages, race and gender have fallen victim.

"Sophisticated phone scams use the trust victims have in their own governmental and law enforcement agencies against them," NYPD Community Affairs Chief Nilda Hofmann said. "Victims of this type of phone scam are not limited to senior citizens. These criminals are targeting every strata of society, and every demographic is vulnerable."

Watch: Full NYPD press conference:

Authorities say victims are contacted by the "Social Security Administration" and advised that their Social Security number has been used to open numerous accounts or is involved in some sort of drug trafficking or money laundering operation.

To protect their money or to avoid being arrested, victims have to send various sums of money to help resolve the situation. The most common forms of payment requested are prepaid gift cards, Bitcoin and bank wire transfers.

In many of the cases, a person posing as a police officer or law enforcement official will intimidate or threaten victims to gain compliance.

Victims are told that they will be arrested and/or their assets will be frozen.

Scammers have claimed to be NYPD, FBI, NYS Police, Texas PD and LAPD, and they employ technology called "spoofing" to manipulate the caller IDs.

The scammer will often stay on the phone with the victims while they are going into stores to make their gift card purchases and tell them not to let the store clerks know what is going on.
They even tell them stories to make up so they will not be refused purchase of gift cards.

To combat the scam, the NYPD has taken the following actions:

--Crime Prevention Officers in all precincts have detailed information on the scams and share information with the public, including a "Scam Alert" card

--Utilizing Social Media to send out scam alerts including a tape of an actual Social Security Administration robo-call

--Educating the public at Build the Block Meetings and other community events

--Working with retail outlets that sell gift cards to educate sales staff and place NYPD Scam Alert cards in their New York City stores

--Working with Bitcoin ATM machine providers regarding their electronic scam messaging and texts and placing NYPD Scam Alert Cards at stores where machines are located

--The Police Impersonation Unit and the Grand Larceny Division conduct extensive investigations

The NYPD reminds individuals that they will never be contacted by the NYPD, Social Security Administration or any Law Enforcement Agency and be asked to submit money or information over the phone.

If contacted by anyone claiming to represent any such agency and asking for money, New Yorkers should immediately hang up the phone.

For information about scams, visit The Federal Trade Commission's website and the NYPD's website. Victims who have lost money in one of these scams are encouraged to file a report at their local precinct.

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