Social Security, AI and Other Scams
One day in April, Dr. Rudolph Cumberbatch received a phone call from an unknown number but recognized the voice on the other end as his 19-year-old grandson, Eddie.
Eddie said he was in Ohio and had been in a serious accident. Although he wasn’t injured, Eddie said his car was totaled and needed $18,000 immediately. It just so happened that Eddie’s father was close by and became suspicious about the story. So, he called his son, who said he was in his apartment in Chicago and had not been in a car accident.
Dr. Cumberbatch later discovered that a voice scammer found his grandson’s popular TikTok Channel, sampled Eddie’s voice with speech synthesis technology, and impersonated him.
“I sort of fell for it because, basically, it sounded very much like him,” Dr. Cumberbatch told Yahoo Finance. “I was so shaken up that I didn’t even question it because I get a lot of screwed-up calls, and I always question these people. But this one I did not question at all.”
By using artificial intelligence (AI) to clone a loved one’s voice, scammers are making it more difficult for seniors to protect themselves against fraud.
There are already a variety of scams, but “being able to clone a voice now supercharges those existing scams that already worked pretty well, but create an additional level of authenticity as well,” Wasim Khaled, CEO and co-founder of Blackbird.AI, an AI-powered risk intelligence firm, told Yahoo Finance.
The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) issued a warning in March about the increase in AI voice scams. In addition, a 2023 survey by McAfee, a computer security software company, found one in four participants had experienced an AI voice cloning scam or knew someone who had.
According to the FTC and Khaled, there are ways to fight back against voice AI scams:
• Have a security word or phrase. Come up with a secret word or phrase that you share with your loved ones. If the caller does not provide the correct word or phrase when asked, do not act upon the caller’s request.
• Don’t trust the voice. Call the person who supposedly contacted you to verify the story.
• Consider location-tracking services. You and your loved ones can download location tracker apps on your smartphones. So, if someone calls claiming to be a loved one, the tracker allows you to see your “real” loved one’s location.
• Keep your social media accounts private to prevent scammers from getting audio from your videos.
5 Popular Social Security Scams
Social Security scams top the list of the most reported frauds against older adults. The following are among the five most popular scams:
1. The imposter scam. Con artists, posing as representatives from the Social Security Administration (SSA), contact seniors via email, phone, or in-person visits, claiming there is a problem with their Social Security benefits. Scammers pressure their victims to give them their Social Security information, bank account information, or other personal information in order to resolve the so-called problem.
2. Social Security card replacement card scam. Scammers claim they can speed up the process of replacing a Social Security card—for a fee. The fraudsters, however, take the money without helping their victims get a new card.
3. The threat of benefits suspension scam. In this fraud, scammers claim that your Social Security benefits will be suspended because of criminal activity or a problem with your account. The fraudsters offer to resolve the matter for a fee or for providing them with your personal information.
4. The investment opportunity scam. In this scam, fraudsters claim they can increase your Social Security benefits or provide you with additional income through investment opportunities. However, the phony investment scheme often requires upfront fees or involvement in fraudulent investments.
5. The Social Security overpayment scam. The con artists claim that you received an overpayment in Social Security benefits that must be repaid immediately. The scammers pressure you to make payments via gift cards, wire transfers, or other untraceable methods.
There are steps you can take to avoid being a victim of these and other Social Security scams:
• Do not give out your personal information unless you initiated contact with the SSA.
• Contact SSA directly to request a replacement Social Security card. Replacement cards are free.
• Contact SSA directly to verify any claims of benefit suspension. The SSA will not threaten to suspend your benefits without prior communication.
• Be skeptical of any offers to increase your Social Security benefits through an investment.
Maryland Resident Gets Conned Out of Life Savings
Marjorie Bloom, a 77-year-old widow who lives in Chevy Chase, Maryland, was on her computer on April 22, 2021, when it suddenly froze. A popup window alerted Bloom to call a tech support phone number, supposedly for Microsoft. Bloom called and a person claiming to be a “Microsoft engineer” told Bloom that her computer had been hijacked by foreign hackers who stole her personal data.
Bloom told the “engineer” that she banked with PNC, and the individual transferred her to someone claiming to be a PNC “fraud investigator.” The investigator told Bloom that her bank account showed $29,000 worth of pending transactions, and urged her to immediately move her money to a new account. The individual also told Bloom, who has three children, that telling others about her situation could compromise their efforts.
So, over the next four weeks, Bloom wired around $661,000 from her savings, stocks, and an annuity into cryptocurrency based on the suggestion of the “investigator.”
On a Friday morning in May 2021, Bloom waited in anticipation for a call with instructions on how to access her life savings. The call never came. So, Bloom called the “investigator.” His number had been disconnected. She called PNC, but the bank said they had no record of the employee.
“All of a sudden, this grayness lifted,” Bloom told CNBC. “I realized I had been defrauded of everything.” As it turns out, both the “engineer” and the “investigator” were scammers who conned Bloom out of her life savings.
According to the FBI’s Elder Fraud Report 2022, almost half of tech support victims are over 60 and experience 69 percent of the losses (over $724 million). What’s more, cryptocurrency gives scammers new advantages because they can quickly move large amounts of money without having to come in contact with the financial system, Patrick Wyman, chief of the FBI’s Virtual Asset Unit, told CNBC.
Wyman advises victims to report fraud to the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center (https://www.ic3.gov/ ) as soon as possible since it gets harder to recoup money the longer victims wait.
Bloom contacted the FBI and her case remains open. She’s not holding out much hope of getting her money back. “I go from being thoroughly upset and [asking] ‘What in the world was I thinking?’ to saying ‘You just have to move forward. What’s done is done,’” she told CNBC.