LOVELAND, Ohio — One of the worst phone scams in recent years is back again, and one victim now wants others to know the warning signs.
Kendra Fleischmann, of Loveland, is the latest to lose everything she had in her bank account to the Social Security scam, in her case $4,000.
"I think it's tragic, especially how hard it is these days with COVID, and so many of us struggling," she said.
Caller claims your number has been stolen by criminals
It all started with a phone call, Fleischmann said, from a man claiming to be with the Social Security Administration.
The fake agent claimed her SSN had been used in a crime.
"They told me someone had rented a car with my Social Security number," she said. "And police found a bunch of drugs in the car."
The caller said her Social was now suspended pending a criminal investigation. She said the fake agent told her her card had been suspended "for reasons of suspicious activity."
Fleischmann panicked and feared charges could be brought against her.
The "agent" told her to avoid arrest, she would need to prove her identity.
"He told me I needed to empty my checking account," Fleischmann said, "or else it would be seized."
The fake agent said she needed to temporarily transfer the money to the government, after which the Social Security Administration would reimburse her.
He then instructed her to purchase $4,000 worth of Target gift cards, sending her to two different Kroger stores to make the transactions.
Caller doesn't give you time to think
Why did she follow the instructions? Like so many other people who've been targeted by this scam, Fleishmann never had a chance to think about what she was doing or ask a friend.
That's because the caller stayed on the phone with her the entire time she was buying gift cards.
"They had me on the phone the whole time, telling me I couldn't say anything to anybody," she said.
As a result, no one asked any questions.
Her friend Jenn Gisse feels stores need to do more to stop this scam.
"It seems like there should be some protocol that they would be alarmed by," Gisse said.
But Fleischmann was able to purchase the cards, and once back in her car, the "agent" asked her for to read off the numbers.
Within minutes, the caller and her $4,000 were gone.
"It pisses me off that people can do this and that they can't find them," Fleischmann said.
Why stores and authorities can't stop the scam
The SSA and Federal Trade Commission are investigating these calls but say the scam originates in multiple places.
We are contacting Kroger and Target to see if there is any way to reverse the charges, though in most cases once a gift card has been emptied, the money is gone forever.
Both Kroger and Target have told us they do train cashiers to watch for this scam.
But they say when a victim refuses to talk to the clerk, there is little the store can do to stop it.
So it's up to all of us to remember the warning signs, so you don't waste your money.
Don't Waste Your Money" is a registered trademark of Scripps Media, Inc. ("Scripps").
Follow John on Instagram @johnmataresemoney
Follow John on Twitter (@JohnMatarese)
For more consumer news and money saving advice, go to www.dontwasteyourmoney.com
Better Business Bureau tips to avoid Social Security scams
· SSA will never call you asking for your Social Security number. They will never ask you to pay anything, nor will they ever threaten your benefits, identity, or bank account information.
· Never give personal information to unsolicited callers. If someone contacts you without your permission, refuse to tell them any personal or bank account information.
· Don’t trust your caller ID. The internet has made it possible for scammers to use fake IDs when they call your phone. If you receive a suspicious call, don’t make any important decisions based on what your caller ID says.
· Contact the Social Security Administration: If you are concerned about a call you received from someone who claims to be with the SSA, you can call the real SSA at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY 1-800-325-0778).
Sara Kememer, Cincinnati Better Business Bureau