|"First Scene of Thieves," by Gror (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
My iPhone rings. An 800 number, calling me. Which might as well flash a red “SCAM!”
But I am a curious sort.
“Dear citizen …” an ominous robotic voice begins. “Due to a certain suspicious activity, we are forced to suspend your Social Security number to immediate effect. Due to this your benefits will be cancelled …”
I’ve received this call 14 times over the last two weeks of January.
“In order to connect with a Social Security administration officer, press '1' now,” it continues. “In case we do not hear from you, your Social will be blocked permanently. Press '1' now, and you will automatically be connected with a concerned department official.”
I admire that “concerned” — a nice touch. Who doesn’t want to believe there is a soul in the government who cares? Once I broke down and pressed “1,” though the person I then connected with sounded, to me, not so much concerned as confused. A harried drone in a Third World basement boiler room. They immediately asked for my Social Security number. “You’re the one who called me,” I said, hanging up.
“Social Security numbers do not get suspended,” the Federal Trade Commission points out on its web page devoted to this scam. “Ever.”
Are there people who don’t know this? Apparently so. Which raises the question: Why base your scam on something a halfway savvy person knows to be false?
|"Second Scene of Thieves," by Gror (Metropolitan Museum of Art)|
For exactly that reason. Because scammers want to weed out those with discernment. Fraud isn’t about duping everybody. It’s about identifying the most credulous, the choicest marks, and going after them. It’s a manpower issue. What scamster wants to laboriously lead a would-be mark along, only to have him balk at buying $3,000 in Apple gift cards to pay off a delinquent tax bill? Falling for the obvious initial gambit means you are more likely to keep giving, information and even cash.
Scams fall into two categories: fear and greed. The Social Security number is a fear scam. The terrifying and mysterious government is about to drop kick you into oblivion. There are similar scams involving the IRS, which will never call you demanding payment. Or Com-Ed, calling to say your power is about to be cut.
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