Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 29, 2013

A new low — Scammers target seniors again

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Here we go again. Another round of scammers are once again targeting seniors in our region — this time trying to gain access to their Social Security benefits through an elaborate online scam.

The newest scam was reported in our region last week. A local victim from Mercer County contacted authorities and the Social Security administration after receiving a letter from Social Security seeking to verify her address change. It seems her mailing address was changed online by a still unidentified scammer who sought to divert her Social Security checks to Florida.

Local authorities don’t know how the online scammer gained access to the woman’s personal information, and they say it is the first time they’ve seen such a scam in our region. They are asking local Social Security recipients to be vigilant, and to open and carefully read any letters they receive from the federal agency. The concern, of course, is that some may simply disregard or throw away such a letter. However, if they do, they wouldn’t be alerted to an address change that they didn’t request.

“Obviously that is fraudulent,” Sgt. M.S. Haynes, assistant detachment commander of the West Virginia State Police Princeton Detachment, said of the online address change that the local victim didn’t request. “We don’t know how they obtained her information, but somehow they obtained it and were able to set up an account online.”

Haynes said the letter the woman received from Social Security was legitimate, and was simply seeking to verify her online change of address request. When she contacted Social Security, she was informed someone had set up an account for her online that changed her address to Florida.

Haynes said all area residents are urged to open and read any letters they receive from Social Security in light of this new scam. If they receive a letter seeking a confirmation of an address change — and they didn’t request an address change — they should immediately contact Social Security, and then the West Virginia State Police.

Residents should always avoid giving out personal information, including Social Security numbers, credit card numbers or bank account information over the telephone or the Internet when dealing with strangers. Citizens should also always verify the identity of the person on the other end of the telephone. Scammers will typically just hang up if they are confronted or threatened with a call to the police or attorney general.

If you don’t know who the person is on the other end of the telephone asking for money or personal information — or if they claim to know you but you don’t recognize their voice or telephone number — don’t hesitate to end the call and contact local law enforcement officials. The same goes for such inquiries online or by regular mail.

All citizens in the region — young and old alike — must remain vigilant when it comes to illegal scams.