It’s one of those frauds that play on a most modern-day fear: losing your identity to a thief and having to undergo all of the steps it takes to repair the damage.
One victim lost $2,500 after receiving one such call that was supposedly from the Social Security Administration, according to Business Insider and the Identity Theft Resource Center.
Here was the unfolding drama’s opening line: “Your Social Security number has been used to rent a car.”
Straightforward enough, but the scammer went on to transfer the call to someone posing as a Border Patrol agent. The victim was told the car had turned up near the border in Texas with two pounds of cocaine stashed in the trunk.
The pseudo-sympathetic caller acknowledged the victim probably had nothing to do with the incident but warned that he was facing $80,000 in attorney fees to clear his name, according to the resource center. Another threat: if the victim didn’t help catch the bad guys, he faced prosecution.
“Over the next 3-1/2 hours, the caller would swindle thousands of dollars from my bank account using a mix of misery and threat, not unlike a bad buddy cop movie,” according to a first-person account the victim wrote for Business Insider.
The victim agreed to cooperate and followed instructions to purchase Google play gift cards, scratch off the backs and send the scammers a photo via a text number he was given.
The victim did get suspicious at one point and asked for some sort of proof, but was told “there isn’t any paperwork I can send you because this is confidential. … We don’t know who’s using your identity.”
And the perpetrator gave a name that turned out to be an actual U.S. border agent, just to further confuse matters.
Here are some things to know and do, courtesy of the ID Theft Resource Center:
• Ask for the name and agent identification number. Hang up and contact the Social Security Administration and inquire about the call. “You can do the same thing for any other government agency as well,” the resource center says.
• The government does not call individual consumers and enlist their help in an investigation.
• You will never be told by SSA or any other government agency to buy gift cards and then provide the card details.
• A simple Google search for the phone number and the story the callers used would have told the victim that this was a scam.
Beware of romance. The scam kind, anyway.
New Mexico has moved up to the No. 4 slot when it comes to “catfishing,” which is when a Romeo or Juliet conjures up a bogus online profile to target potential victims they find on social media or dating apps, according to HighSpeedInternet.com.
That’s a leap up from the year before, when New Mexico was ranked No. 13. HighSpeedInternet.com, which aims to help consumers choose an internet provider, used FBI data to come up with its per-capita rankings.
The good news is that those who did fall for fake romance in New Mexico lost much less than last year: an average of $18,600 per victim, compared to the previous $33,867 per victim.
Contact Ellen Marks at firstname.lastname@example.org or 505-823-3842 if you are aware of what sounds like a scam. To report a scam to law enforcement, contact the New Mexico Consumer Protection Division toll-free at 1-844-255-9210.