SALT LAKE CITY — It's not just ordinary Utahns who have to watch out for scams. A director of a state office recently found herself on the other end of a phone call from someone trying to get her Social Security number.
Tani Downing, executive director of the Utah Department of Administrative Services, reported Wednesday during a news confernce on consumer fraud that she received multiple calls from a "live" imposter who repeatedly tried coercing her into giving up her full name and Social Security number.
"I could hear the call center sounds in the background and he said, 'Can you give me your first and your last name,'" Downing explained. "I asked him, 'What kind of legal proceedings would you be calling about?'"
The caller kept replying that he couldn't tell her without her full name, at which point she told him the call was sounding like a scam. She threatened to report the suspicious call to the authorities, then the fraudster became defensive and angry and said, "See you in court!"
The Utah Department of Commerce announced Wednesday that scammers targeting people by claiming to be from the federal government and threatening legal action if personal information is not provided is becoming more prevalent in the Beehive State.
Because of her skepticism and recognition of numerous red flags of likely scam activity, Downing was able to handle the situation without any undue hardship. She said every consumer should be just as careful in questioning the validity of an invasive and potentially dangerous phone call.
"They could take your identity," she said. "I'm sure there was going to be a follow-up question like, 'What's your Social Security number?' or 'What's your address?'"
According to the Utah Division of Consumer Protection, previously reported scams include robocalls — phone calls that use a computerized voice and auto-dialing system to deliver robotic sounding messages. Consumers have received messages claiming their Social Security numbers have been compromised by fraud, then requiring individuals to verify their Social Security and bank information to prevent their account from being suspended.
State regulators are urging consumers to ignore the ambush calls and any request to repeat your Social Security number or other personal information over the phone.
“Remember this Social Security scam is a numbers game for fraudsters," said Daniel O’Bannon, division director. "They will keep calling Utah numbers to see who will take the bait. If you are unsure who is on the line, end the call and contact the real government agency instead.”
He also advised consumers to be careful of unknown calls with local area codes that scammers use to create a false sense of security in potential victims who may be more inclined to answer calls from familiar looking numbers.
"(Criminals) can get the 801 area code (and other seven digits) that's local so that it looks like it's somebody nearby," he said.
Federal investigators said the Social Security calls have become quite a nuisance for phone owners, a news release stated. The Federal Trade Commission reported that approximately 35,000 consumers sent over $10 million to scammers last year associated with false Social Security information, the release stated.
Local officials urge consumers to be wary and avoid giving out vital personal information to anyone calling on the phone.
“Con artists continue to phone us with robocalls and live threats to try to trap Utahns into revealing their Social Security numbers over the phone," explained Francine Giani, executive director of the state Commerce Department. "Please stay vigilant and don’t fall for these phony phone calls. Just hang up!”
• The Social Security Administration will never call and ask for your Social Security number or ask you to pay for anything.7 comments on this story
• Your caller ID might show the Social Security Administration’s true phone number (1-800-772-1213), but computers make it easy to show any number on caller ID. To be sure, hang up and call Social Security yourself.
• Never give your Social Security number to anyone who contacts you. Don’t confirm the last 4 digits. Same for bank accounts or credit cards.
• Anyone who tells you to wire money, pay with a gift card or send cash is a scammer.
• To report a scam, visit the Federal Trade Commission website at ftc.gov/complaint.