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Scam Artists Are Lurking On The Phone, Door-to-Door

Will Kennedy/Courtesy Photo

Now that Hurricane Sally is history the restoration is underway in Northwest Florida and south Alabama. And so are the scam artists looking to make an illicit buck.

One of the emerging rip offs deals with Social Security, according to Tammy Ward at the Better Business Bureau in Pensacola.

“Consumers and receiving phone calls, and their caller ID will say, ‘SSN’ or ‘SSA,’ or it might have a phone number that you might associate with the Social Security Administration,” said Ward.  “And that’s because they’re spoofing the numbers – using that program that can spoof any number – and it can come up to whatever they want it to be.”

Several residents say they’ve received calls that their social security number is being suspended because illegal activity, including money laundering. Ward says the timing here – just after a major hurricane – doesn’t appear to be a factor.

“I had a friend that is actually in Jacksonville, that did not have the storm, she’s also getting several calls a day and it’s been the same Social Security scam,” Ward said. “So I think it’s actually countrywide right now. And these types of scams will come in waves. Sometimes they’ll hit certain areas and sometimes they’ll hit the whole country.”

Guarding against that and other benefits scams can be fairly straightforward, says Ward. First – don’t answer any phone calls if you don’t recognize the number or caller ID. Instead, let it go to voice mail and listen to it later. Another rule of thumb: do not pay anything over the phone.

“Don’t wire money; don’t give your credit card number of debit card number out to anybody,” said Ward. “If the Social Security organization would actually call you – which they would not – they don’t call people. They would not be asking you to pay them something over the phone.”

If you’re concerned about receiving a so-called “Social Security” call, then cut to the chase and contact the Social Security Administration directly at (800) 772-1213.

While the SSN scam appears widespread, scammers have moved into the areas devastated by Hurricane Sally, which Ward says can be a treasure trove for what she calls “bad storm chasers.”

“They were hitting us right as soon as Sally left us,” said Ward. “And they’ll go door-to-door – sometimes they’ll have something on their truck or their car. They’ll have business cards in some instances; something to make them look legitimate.”

But even if they are valid contractors in another state, they still must be licensed and insured in Florida. But there still could be problems down the road.

“Just do a little bit of research before you give anybody any kind of money; and, ask for a signed contract before any work gets done,” Ward said. “Check them out; go on www.bbb.org or call our office at 429-0002. We can look them up for you if you don’t have Internet access.”

It’s a matter of doing your due diligence, says the BBB’s Tammy Ward, who adds that not everybody out there after a storm is a scammer.

“We have a lot of community people that will go out of their way to help our fellow neighbors,” said Ward. “We just want to make sure that they get one of the good guys.”