Scamming is a multi-billion dollar industry that is creative and evolving. The National Consumer Protection Week is geared toward education and the National Slam the Scam Day focuses specifically on government imposter scams. Today’s guest is Anthony “AJ” Monaco. AJ currently serves as a special agent in charge of the major case unit at the Social Security Administration Office of Inspector General. His unit investigates complex fraud cases with a particular emphasis on Social Security Administration imposter scams and organized fraud rings. AJ has over 30 years of combined federal law enforcement, Marine officer, and legal experience.“It’s important to note that the scams evolve and they evolve in the way that business evolves. These are very bright people, and we do ourselves a disservice to underestimate the scammers because they evolve and take notice of… Click To Tweet
- [1:00] – AJ shares his current role and what he manages at the Social Security Administration.
- [2:59] – The Secret Service is also a leader in financial fraud.
- [4:01] – Government imposter fraud is when a scammer presents themselves as a government official, specifically from the Social Security Administration.
- [6:04] – Scams evolve the way business evolves. Scammers take notice of human nature.
- [7:56] – Scammers pay great attention to everything including social media and the news.
- [9:09] – Sometimes these government imposter scammers will present fake credentials but real officials won’t send credentials through text or email.
- [11:02] – Scammers have shifted back to physical mail because that is generally the way the government contacts you.
- [13:21] – You can report calls from phone numbers that you suspect are fraudulent.
- [14:26] – For any phone call or text you get, do a search online to see if there’s anything that the phone number comes back as.
- [16:50] – If you get physical mail, there will be some minor things that could stand out as suspicious.
- [19:39] – Once scammers get past your initial barriers, they are easier to believe.
- [20:40] – The 4 P’s are the “Phony Phundamentals” and they are Pretend, Problem, Pressure, and Pay.
- [22:01] – When it comes to the Pay step, scammers will ask for money in a way that is not standard for sending money to a real government official.
- [25:37] – Gift card scams seem like they wouldn’t be easy to fall for, but once a scammer gets past the barrier, it is easier to convince targets.
- [28:01] – Purchasing and sending gift cards are almost impossible to trace.
- [30:09] – AJ describes a recent organized crime ring that they were successful in shutting down.
- [32:58] – How likely will a victim of fraud get their money back when investigated by the Social Security Administration?
- [36:02] – Be suspicious if someone reaches out to tell you that they will be able to get your money back.
- [39:40] – AJ explains what Slam the Scam Day is.
- [41:09] – National Consumer Protection Week is this week and Slam the Scam Day is soon!
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- National Consumer Protection Week: Slam the Scam Day
AJ, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Great to be here, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Can you give myself and the audience a little bit of background about who you are and what you do?
Sure thing. I'm the Special Agent in Charge at the Social Security Administration, the Office of Inspector General. I'm in charge of the Major Case Unit. I've been an agent for almost 20 years now. I have the privilege of managing this group of individuals of attorneys, agents, and analysts, who investigate major frauds related to the Social Security Administration, including imposter fraud. I've not been doing necessarily an imposter fraud, but I've been in federal law enforcement since 2004. Before that, I was in the Marine Corps for almost a decade.
Out of curiosity, what got you interested in going into the investigative side of things and managing that?
It's interesting. When I got out of the Marine Corps in 2000, I really wanted to be a prosecutor. I went to law school and I did everything right to become a prosecutor. I even had a job when I was having a job offer anyway. While I was working at the US Attorney's Office as an intern, I started working with agents. I thought, “You know what? I can do that.” I found out that agents and prosecutors are paid about similarly, and it's a lot more fun going out and arresting bad guys.
I want to only give a shout out to the federal prosecutors out there. They do a lot of hard work on the desk. My bench was really towards action and towards being on the field, being on the street, whatever you might call it. It's not uncommon to have to have lawyers in federal law enforcement.
Rather than go down the route of becoming a prosecutor, I became a Secret Service agent. From there, I got into the inspector general community after about seven years. In all of that, there's lots of investigative activity that some people might not know. The Secret Service investigates on their investigative side. They've got the dual mission, the protection and investigation, but they are leaders in financial fraud. That's really how I got into investigating fraud.
Interesting. When we talk about imposter fraud, we're specifically referring to people presenting themselves as if they're working for the government or representative of the government.
That's right. Holding themselves out to be a government official. In our case, in the Social Security Administration, which is a large portion of a government imposter fraud, is somebody holding themselves out to be an official from the Social Security Administration. Or as has happened a lot, somebody from the inspector general, another agent. We've got lots of agents that do lots of fraud work in the SSA OIG. Holding themselves out to be an OIG agent is particularly perilous for the general public.
Let's talk through what some of these frauds look like and what we could do about them.
Yeah, sure thing. We can set the stage with the types of things. Let me back up just a little bit. Government imposter fraud really took off probably in 2013-2014. There's always been imposter fraud. Everybody makes jokes now about the Nigerian prince from, I think it was the 90s, early 2000s. That's a good thing that we all joke about it now, but that's morphed. The criminals, the imposters, have become much more adapted at socially manipulating us in various scams.
The type of scam that really took off in the 2013-2014 era was the IRS scam. A lot of people in this country pay taxes, so a criminal could foreseeably hit and touch a large percentage of the population with this scam. Then, in the 2018-2019 era, switched to an even bigger population of
people hoping to touch and concern to get access to Social Security beneficiaries.
On the Social Security side, we have the retirement-type benefits and then we have disability benefits. I don't know the number of people that we touch, but it's large. It's more than taxpayers, but we gave out over $1 trillion a year. SSA gives out over $1 trillion a year. You've got a large base to hit.
Even if you hit a fraction of those people, very likely, you have high percentages of hitting somebody who has a Social Security number. Your scam is going to work a much greater percentage of the time. That's government scams writ large.
For Social Security fraud or Social Security imposter fraud, what we see a lot is the baseline scam—I think it's really important to note that the scams evolve. They evolve in the way that business evolves. These are very bright people. I think we do ourselves a disservice to underestimate the scammers because they evolve and they take notice of human nature.I think it's really important to note that the scams evolve. They evolve in the way that business evolves. These are very bright people. I think we do ourselves a disservice to underestimate the scammers because they evolve and… Click To Tweet
The initial scams were, I get a call, I get a text, maybe even an email. I think those are the primary ones. Later, actual physical letters come in. What's old is what's new now, but call, text, or email. It says that there's a problem. We'll talk about the four Ps in a moment, but there's a problem with your Social Security number.
At first glance, nobody wants that. The same thing now with the Amazon scam. When your Amazon account has been locked—“Oh, that's an immediate problem that's realistic.” Your Social Security number has been identified associated with, and the most common one was some drug activity or illegal activity on the border. In order to fix that, you have to do something. Of course, you've got to do it right now.
You’ve got to start moving money for safekeeping while we “fix.” We fix your Social Security number and therein precedes the parade of horribles, where we're moving money somehow, some way—gift cards, wire transfers—some way, over to other accounts, which ended up being controlled by money mules, bad guys, handlers, and then it makes its way out of your bank accounts into the stream of criminal commerce. That's basic scamology, if you will.
What we've seen recently in the idea of scammers getting more complex is they really do pay attention to the news. They pay attention to our websites. They’ll pose as one of us. I've even had my LinkedIn account copied or my name. I've been used in an attempt to try to pose as a security administration, OIG, law enforcement official, as have almost all the senior officials in OIG because of their names on the website. Several people in the Social Security Administration itself. They'll do that.What we've seen recently in the idea of scammers getting more complex is they really do pay attention to the news. They pay attention to our websites. They’ll pose as one of us. I've even had my LinkedIn account copied or my name.… Click To Tweet
One of the things we've seen recently, and they've done this with increasing sophistication, is I will present you through email or text with a copy of some credentials, some official looking thing that's typically photoshopped. It's a pretty good Photoshop. If you're not used to looking at federal badges and federal credentials for law enforcement, you might think that some of these things are very real. The reality is that in federal law enforcement, not only do we not do that, we're not allowed to present our credentials to you by text or email. One technique is to try to gain confidence and to show some level of credibility.
One of the things we're seeing is, as you know, the government's attempts to combat inflation. To deal with inflation, the cost of living allowances for Social Security go up. Those are automatic. The Social Security Administration does that calculation and applies it to the benefits that it gives out. But the scammers, knowing that not everybody understands that or knows that, will send you a text or an email. We've even seen letters with a fraudulent toll-free number that you have to call and then therein starts the process.
They either try to manipulate you by having you by bank information because they need spurious bank accounts to move money for money laundering to get that money out of legitimate places into the stream of criminal commerce. They’re just trying to get you to give them money, or they want to steal your identity, one of those three things. That's what we're seeing now. I'm trying to think if there's anything else. The letters and then varying degrees of sophistication with those letters. Now that letters are coming as PDFs, and they're cobbled together to different things, but that's really what we're seeing.
I know, historically, I've always told people, if you get a call from someone claiming to be the IRS or a text message, that's just not how the IRS communicates, unless you're already working with somebody. The only way they're really going to get ahold of you is via the US Postal Service. Have the scammers now started to switch over to physical mail or back to physical mail?
They have, and apparently they listen to your podcast. They listen to the scam alerts that we put out. We have a very active public affairs group. Even though we're small, they're very active. We put out scam alerts all the time. As I was kind of alluding to before, they do their research.
When we went out and said, “Hey, we'll only get in touch with you by sending you a letter.” Well, they decided to figure out a way because the criminal mind is ingenious. They figure out a way to blanket large area codes or large zip codes. We think, just based on some of the intelligence we have, that they're actually able to target certain groups of people, whether that's through lead list lending or the fraudulent use of fraudulent sales lead lists. I don't know a whole lot about the regulation of lead lists, but we do know from some of the intelligence that they're able to manipulate those lead lists and target certain people.
Those letters get to a higher percentage of the people to whom they might pertain that they might be relevant, so they were sending. The problem with a letter is, and I think they're figuring this out with the actual physical postal letter, is very hard to track. You dump it in some mailbox somewhere and they're like, “What are we going to do?”
There are ways to figure it out, but what happens is they use a toll-free number. We have means to identify that toll-free number—get in touch with the owner of that toll-free number—all you have to do is shut down the toll-free number that's in the letter, and then game over for that particular scam. But unfortunately, the toll-free numbers are abundant. There are lots of ways to get a toll-free number in the companies that vend them, that the upstream providers or whoever the providers are, where you can buy a toll-free number or lease a toll-free number. They're not necessarily going to have an idea that those are being used fraudulently until somebody reports it.
You got to my next question. Is there a place where people could check if a number is a valid Social Security Administration phone number and report it if it's not?
I don't know. To the first part of your question, I'm not sure how we do that. We can do it internally. The best thing to do, though—that's a really great question—if you suspect that it is, just report it to us on our website. We have a scam form website. “I suspect this is fraudulent.” We have a way to take a look at those. I'm not certain there's probably a technical answer to that from the outside, but I don't know that off the top of my head.
Are most of the phone numbers used by the Social Security Administration publicly accessible numbers? If you google the number, it comes back, and it doesn't show up on a Google search, then it's probably not a legitimate number.
That's certainly an indication. That’s probably what I would do, and that's a mindset that I would recommend. For the text message you get from your bank is back out, go to two search engines, put the number, and see when it comes back. When it comes back to the Social Security Administration, then it's probably legit. You can do the same thing with a fraudulent number. If you think it's fraudulent, then report it to us, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, and somebody ultimately will take it down. They're doing that.You can do the same thing with a fraudulent number. If you think it's fraudulent, then report it to us, report it to the Federal Trade Commission, and somebody ultimately will take it down. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
With those letters that went out, and I think they're still doing that, now they're doing that just with PDF letters. You get these letters somehow, some way. It looks to be legitimate when it comes to the email or the text, but when you dig a little bit behind, the number or the identified name on the email, it's not legitimate. There's probably somebody out there in some kind of Snopes or somebody who's probably identified it as fraudulent as well. That's an indicator. It's a factor in figuring out that the number or the email address is fraud.
They change so often. It's really easy to get ahold of these toll-free numbers. It's a constant process. Really, the mindset is more important. In other words, the process that you're talking about to back out, do your own research, not accept anything, is on faith. Unfortunately, we have to be that way, but that's really the mindset you have to adopt.
Got you. Are there any ways we can look? If we receive a document, let's say, through the mail that we can have any way of authenticating it because I'm not going to recognize the Administration's seal, I don't know who is and isn't an employee. Are there ways of if you're just looking at the document, have an idea of whether it’s a legitimate document or not?
Yeah, there are some fundamental things. I don't want to give away too many secrets. For the general public, there are some things that the scammers don't do, perhaps because most of these things originate from overseas. We know it from West Africa or the Indian subcontinent in English speaking, where they speak English, are taught English, and many people speak it very well with a recognizable accent, but maybe even slightly idiomatic English. They speak and write it well.
When you get the letters, there will be some fundamental things that are wrong with the letters that should make you say, “You know what? This isn't quite right.” One of the ones that we're seeing now just mixes and matches a couple of things. If you grew up in this country, or even if you were naturalized and had taken the citizenship classes, you would probably know that the Attorney General of Texas whose name is Ken Paxton has nothing to do with the Social Security Administration and, really, the IRS.
They might interact somehow. They've mixed and matched, and they don't really understand our federal system. They don't understand the interplay between the states and the federal government, so they'll mix and match all these things. It makes you scratch your head when you're looking at it. They're trying to cite codes. We've seen them with Supreme Court justices.
Most people understand the basic contours of our government. Some of these things just don't make any sense. The syntax is off, the structure is off. Maybe you should have stayed in school. The scammers might have stayed in school a bit longer and paid a little more attention in their English classes because some of these things just aren't right, and you can read it and guard. This couldn't have been written by a government official, where there's levels of oversight.
The main thing is you read the letter and there are just obvious mistakes: punctuation mistakes, idiomatic English, colloquial phrases and things like that, and then just other things that don't make sense. You need to recognize the sealer, not just to recognize that there are going to be a multitude of mistakes. I haven't seen one yet that's been even close to the type of letter that you would get from the IRS, SSA, or Health and Human Services. That's the really big thing.The main thing is you read the letter and there are just obvious mistakes: punctuation mistakes, idiomatic English, colloquial phrases and things like that, and then just other things that don't make sense. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
I remember getting a phone call with someone claiming to be from the IRS. “I'm barrister Sheriff Smith,” and I'm like, “Barrister Sheriff Smith working for the IRS?” I'm like, “I don't think so.”
No. There are some nuances about the way things work in this country that they wouldn't know or don't know. It's very obvious in some of the letters. You can't necessarily change that. If that's your draw, that's what you're trying to use to pull a victim in, if you just don't get pulled in in the first place, could you recognize that that letter has got so many mistakes and is not what you would get? If you can stop it at that step, you're going to be great because once they get you in, they're very persuasive.
These people are very persuasive in person. There's been lots of studies on this and lots of experts who've talked about just how persuasive they are once they get past that initial barrier. Fortunately for us, and I think the numbers bear this out and in the general sense, the scam numbers particularly for SSA and government imposters are going down. But once they do get in, the median loss is going up.
The US public is more successful in stopping the scam at the first step, but less successful once they get through the barrier. That's why we put the scam alerts out on our website. We really want to get the public awareness out because they don't succeed if they don't get past the first step.
Let's talk about the four Ps that will help people to identify and spot scams.
Generally stated, and I like to call these the phony phundamentals, I realized this is a podcast. Phony, just trying to do some alliteration. And then phundamentals with the PH as well. Phony phundamentals, phony being imposter.
If somebody's going to call you, the first P is pretend. Somebody's going to call you or purport. Somebody's going to call you to pretend to be, as we talked about earlier, an official from a government agency, an official from Amazon, or an official from your utility company.
Then they're going to state this as a problem, like with your Social Security number, with your tax refund, or with your Amazon account.
In the case of a hugely successful scam—the romance scams—I think what you've probably talked about a good deal in your podcast, there's a prize, a lottery prize, or something. Romance lottery is in the same area—there’s a prize that you need to claim.
The third step is pressure. That's the key element. If you don't recognize anything else in the Ps, the third step, pressure, they're going to pressure you to do something. It's the hard sell.
The fourth step, they're going to have you pay in a certain way. You pay in a certain way, typically by gift cards, by wire. Even now, cryptocurrency, PayPal, or sometimes used to be cashier's checks. We had a big ring; we're just putting what's old is new. Putting cash in a box because those are very hard to trace. Pay in a specific way that is not the way the government would have you pay. Those are the four Ps, pretend to be somebody, problem or prize, pressure, and pay.
I think everyone gets the potential problems and the officials. What are some of the pressure techniques that they use?
Specifically for Social Security and probably the same for the IRS, something is going to happen to you. They're really threats. They're onerous threats. They're threats that involve arrest or seizure of your bank account, things that none of us wants to have. If you understand anything about the system, it's just not going to happen. No federal agent or no local agent is going to call you and threaten you with an arrest. If they have probable cause, which is right out of the Fourth Amendment of the Constitution, they're going to get an arrest warrant and come to your house if you did something wrong.
Nobody's going to call you and say, “If you don't give us this information, if you don't start moving money, we're going to arrest you or we're going to seize your bank account.” It just doesn't happen that way. That's the big pressure that plays on fears that we all have, I mean very natural fears. Nobody wants to get arrested. Nobody wants to have their bank account seized.Nobody's going to call you and say, “If you don't give us this information, if you don't start moving money, we're going to arrest you or we're going to seize your bank account.” It just doesn't happen that way. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
In what ways does the federal government not accept payments? For anyone, if anyone says you need to pay your bill with gift cards that are immediate, you should hang up the phone. What other ways does the US government not accept payments? If you hear this word, it's a clear sign.
Wire fraud. The big ones are going to be gift cards, obviously, and that's a huge problem. Gift cards, big red flags. Like you said, hang up the phone. Wire transfers, as far as I know and as far as we can tell, nobody pays by wire. The government's not going to ask you to pay by wire transfer or internet type things—PayPal, certainly not cryptocurrency. We haven't gotten to that point now, but maybe at some point we will, but I don't know. With the instability of cryptocurrency, I'm not sure that that's going to happen. Those are the things.Wire transfers, as far as I know and as far as we can tell, nobody pays by wire. The government's not going to ask you to pay by wire transfer or internet type things—PayPal, certainly not cryptocurrency. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
Generally, I don't think the government even accepts cash. The converse of that is the government generally will want you to pay by personal check. It knows who you are, so the name on the check. I suppose a cashier's check, but most commonly, I know when I write a check to the IRS that it's my personal check, but also pay.gov.
There's a completely vetted and encrypted service, and you can find that. The other thing is you can find that on the SSA's website. You can find it, I assume, on just about every government website. I know you can pay for national park passes on pay.gov. There are all sorts of things.
When you have to conduct business with the government, it's one of the preferred ways to do it. Any one of those off-the-wall things, gift cards, especially. The point is that they were really successful with gift cards—scammers were—even with the government ones, you wouldn't think that people would necessarily fall for that. But again, once you get past that first step, they're very, very convincing. They're coming up with a ruse as to why you should pay by gift cards.
The only scam that I've heard of that, in my mind, works with gift cards is when someone scams and pretends to be the boss or the boss's boss, and says, “Hey, I want to give out gift cards at the next meeting for the top 10 employees; can you run out to the store and go grab them for me?” That one is at least potentially plausible.
I'm glad you mentioned that because I believe in eating a piece of humble pie. I didn't fall for this scam, but I got one of those from the pastor of my church. This goes to another very important point about taking the hesitation step and just slowing down. We're all running at 100 miles an hour in American life for various reasons, but slowing down in taking what I call the hesitation step and looking at the email, looking at the text and going, “What am I seeing here?”
I got an email pretending to be my first step to be the pastor in my church. He said, “Hey, I just wonder if you could do something for me. I'd like to recognize the volunteers in the church, and I'd like to give them some gift cards.” That was the second email. The first email was pretty innocuous and I wasn't particularly paying attention to. I go, “Yeah, sure. What do you need?” And then the gift card sale came and I'm like, “Oh, hey. Shut up.” It happens to everybody.
I didn't fall for it, but you're exactly right. The gift cards are so damaging. They use those. Once they get those gift cards, it's very difficult. The big box stores do a great job. They're getting better. We partner with them with our National Slam the Scam Day.
The gift cards are really tough because they move and you buy things, particularly on the West Coast, the scams we're seeing. Once you buy electronics and then those electronics are then resold on the black market, it's a money laundering device. They're really hard to trace. That's a very typical scam.
I'm curious about your guys' investigations. If you're allowed to talk about past investigations, which have already concluded, been charged and stuff, and are not in the works, are you seeing more individuals conducting these scams or are the criminal organizations conducting the scams?
It's the latter, it's the organizations, but that may be because that's what we focus on in the major case unit in SSA OIG. In the federal government, if you look at the way we're organized, we're trying to go up a notch. It's like with the DEA. The DEA are trying to work their way up into the drug cartels to stop the flow into the country, whereas your local police are dealing with traffic in the cities and the municipal traffic, so drunk driving. We're the same way. We're trying to work our way into the rings, up the rings, arrest the rings, and find our way all the way overseas in federal law enforcement.
No secret there. You can go read any number of Department of Justice press releases. Our favorite tool, again, you can see this in the press release, is conspiracy to commit money laundering, conspiracy to commit wire fraud, bank fraud, and mail fraud. We use those tools that the federal government gives us, that Congress has given us, to really try to do our best. We also have great jurisdiction so that we can find the bad guys and scammers in five different states and put them all in one case. That's the way we operate.
What is the largest scam that you guys have been able to shut down?
We've got a lot of things in progress here. We've got one that you can read about. Again, a matter of press release. I think we took down 10. There's more, a ring of 10 scammers, if you will. The bottom level is what they call the money mules, the handlers, the guys that are actually doing the hand-to-hand or moving things from bank account to bank account. Typically, we'll get some of those, but what we're really looking for is the guys controlling the rings all around the country.
We've had some success in the 10s. If you look around the community, they've done some really big ones. There was one, again, a matter of public record, called Operation Outsource of the Southern District of Texas, which is one of the granddaddy of all imposter cases, IRS. I want to say there were 60 defendants, a lot of them are overseas.
When we're looking at something, to answer this in a slippery way, we're looking at something. We're looking in the dozens range or more, we're trying to. We're still pretty new, and have had some successes. Generally, we've had some in various districts that are typically all over the place. We've had some success in the Southern District of Texas and the Northern District of Georgia, which is Atlanta. They're all over now.
The Department of Justice is growing, adding members or offices to their strike force. Their elder fraud strike force is called the Fraud Strike or Transnational Elder Fraud Strike Force. We're up to 20 or so. But some of the leaders that I've seen, you've got California, the Central District, which is LA, you've got Houston, but that part of Texas in the Southern District. New York is always a big leader in imposters.
Generally, when you're looking at those, ours included, the Treasury Inspector General for Tax Administration, those guys that we work with, Homeland Security Investigations, Secret Service, they come out in dribs and drabs. The problem is you might indict a handful here, a handful there. But when you piece them all together, you're looking at dozens. That's where we've had some success. You just keep going. You just keep peeling back the onion. After a time you put it all together, you've got dozens. In the case of Operation Outsource, you're in the 60s.
What is the likelihood that someone who's been scammed of their money will get it back if you guys are able to find the scammers?
Two parts to that. This really deserves a PSA—public service announcement—as part of that. Initially, the way that the federal law enforcement works is we have to go through the whole investigation. We've got to find the money. A lot of times, that money is gone. That's the problem. If you can prevent it from going into the stream of criminal commerce in the first place, that's a win. But even if it's there, I don't even know if we're getting pennies on the dollars.
We have to go through a seizure process, a legal process that ends up contested sometimes in civil, sometimes a criminal court, generally known as asset forfeiture. That takes a long time. If we can get it back, it may be years.
That brings me to the public service announcement. The FBI has lots of resources, and we work with them all the time. We work with all the federal law enforcement partners all the time. The FBI, in their Internet Crime Complaint Center or in and around it, they have a recovery asset team. If you can get your complaint, your matter, if you will, your loss, to them within—I don't know if they have an established timeframe, but generally, I think it's wire transfers. If you've transferred money and you realize you've been scammed, if you quickly get to them, send them a complaint, and go to their website, IC3.gov, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, they have a process. They've been very successful at clawing back money, freezing accounts, and freezing wire transfers in stopping that. Just looking at some numbers, and I've seen that they've got hundreds of millions of dollars that they've been able to freeze or claw back through that process because they've got the analysts. They've got the people working in that space to work with the financial institutions.
We get hundreds of thousands of complaints, or at least 100,000 complaints now, but we were up in the 800,000 range at the height of Social Security fraud. There just aren't enough of us to be able to do that kind of work. Somebody's doing a good job with that, and it's the FBI through the IC3, the Internet Crime Complaint Center, where they're clawing back hundreds of millions of dollars and able to work with financial institutions to do that. Some success there. But if we don't get to it within the first day, or two, or maybe three, we, being federal law enforcement, it's very unlikely that we can get that money back. It's a long arduous process that we have to go through and demonstrate that we have the level of proof that these are proceeds. Just to be very candid, that process is not particularly good because a lot of that money is overseas and it's gone.
I guess that leads to the warnings of people claiming to be able to recover your lost funds from scams. It's usually a secondary scam, unfortunately.
Yeah, I would say so. I've not studied that a whole lot. But if you put your security mindset on, I would be very suspicious of somebody being able to do that.
Yes, it's one thing. If you've reported it to IC3 within a couple of days, within a day or 24 hours, and you're getting a response back versus someone just coming to you out of the blue and saying, “Hey, we can you help you get your money back,” it's probably not going to happen.
It's probably a co-conspirator of the original scam. The heart-wrenching thing is to see somebody not scammed once, but scammed twice, three times, and just multiple times, victimized over and over again. You don't have to see that more than once. It's such a heart-wrenching thing to see people undergo that, especially when they're elderly, when they're in their 70s, and they just don't have the ability to make it up. They don't have the years and the ability to go back to work and make up that money they lost.
Yeah, it's just particularly tragic. Earlier, you mentioned the National Slam the Scam Day. What is that, and what are you guys doing for that?
All right, great. I'm glad you asked that. What we realized, probably when we got into the SSA scam world, we realized and encapsulated by this idea, not necessarily this particular incident, but we all understood. One prosecutor in the Department of Justice told me, “We're not going to prosecute our way out of this. It's a component. It’s a very important component, and we know that it works, but there's a lot of other things that we can do to defeat this multibillion dollars.”
All the estimates I've seen have been in the single digits of billions to the multibillions of dollars loss, particularly in the area of elder fraud. I think the IC3 estimated—the last number I saw was $3.1 billion for 2022 for elder fraud. That's all sorts of elder fraud. In the Venn diagram, elder fraud and imposter fraud have a massive overlap.In the Venn diagram, elder fraud and imposter fraud have a massive overlap. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
The age groups that are hit hardest are typically 60 and above, 60-69. The Federal Trade Commission looks at them as tenures groups. We just see that that number is going up and up and up. The median loss is getting higher and higher as you get older, for reasons that people are looking into academics or studying and stuff.
Credit to our public affairs. Again, we're small, but the Inspector General's Office is somewhere north of 500 people, but we have a very robust. The inspector general, Gail Ennis, had dedicated significant resources to our communications, our press and communications, and our media people. It's the fourth year now, but the first year was in 2020, and we started this National Slam the Scam Day, blitzing social media, and getting out on interviews and podcasts like this, to try to raise awareness to help people come.
It's not just the people who might be prospective victims, it's anybody who might know somebody. We know from just being human beings on this earth that word of mouth works really well. Whoever we reach through our social media accounts—we’ve got Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn, or we can reach, might pass out along.
Really, we want to go the way of the Nigerian prince. We want these things to be so obvious that everybody's like, “Oh, that Social Security scam. Man, it's funny.” We just want these things to be dead and gone. While the prosecutive component works very well—and we know that from talking to criminals after we arrest them—that word doesn't necessarily get out really fast. It doesn't get out as fast as we want it to, and they're always changing their scam.Really, we want to go the way of the Nigerian prince. We want these things to be so obvious that everybody's like, “Oh, that Social Security scam. Man, it's funny.” We just want these things to be dead and gone. -Anthony Monaco Click To Tweet
In 2020, we started this thing. Last year, we expanded it to include other government imposter scams. We're working with the Federal Trade Commission, the Federal Communications Commission. We work with nonprofits, AARP, you name it, big box stores, all sorts of people that try to just get the word out and blanket. Social media and regular media, as much as we can, is a small agency to get the word out about these imposter scams.
It's March 9th this year. It's also part of the FTC, the Federal Trade Commission's National Consumer Protection Week, which is all next week. We're smacked out in the middle of all this effort to really help protect consumers and alert them about scams.
Where can people go if they want to learn more about the campaign, read up, and get a better understanding?
It's part of the broader Federal Trade Commission's National Consumer Protection Week, which goes from the 5th of March through the 11th of 2023, so this week. Particularly, we're targeting government and SSA scams on March 9th. All the information about Slam the Scam Day is there at that website, our website.
Awesome, we'll make sure to put that in the show notes so it's easy for people to find, click on, and read more about it. We'll also include it in some of our social media posts for that week as well.
Fantastic, we appreciate that. We need all the help we can get to get the word out.
Any other parting advice before we wrap up today?
Yeah, I was thinking about a couple of things. There's multi-layers. We're not successful in reducing the scam to just a husband, unless a lot of people are working out. I just want to give a shout out to the folks in law enforcement, the guys that I work with, the folks that I work with. The prosecutors, keep doing what you're doing. We're making a difference.
An interesting thing, there are people involved. I'm seeing this more and more, people that are in and around. My parents are older. Those of us, the 40-something, 50-something, 60-something, to have elderly parents, grandparents, or aunts and uncles, keep a lookout for them because we know that cognitively, they are more susceptible to this. Keep a lookout for folks. It's a big part of stopping these scams.
If somebody just breaks that chain of those four Ps, I'd say just in general, for all of us, take the hesitation step. If you don't get into those four Ps at all, if you just hang up, you're never going to get scammed. The hesitation step, especially with the pressure, if you just step back and say, “What am I looking at?” then you're going to be very successful. I think we're doing a good job. We need to continue as a society. The Department of Justice has recognized that. This is a multibillion dollar fraud loss to people. It's a very serious issue. It's something that we all need to pull together.
There are all sorts of components where everybody can help. Your podcast, great example. We need to get the word out and just stop this because as we said earlier, seeing somebody in later stages of life having lost hundreds of thousands of dollars, or even $20,000, it's losing money they can't make up and become potentially being destitute for the remainder of their life, is just such a heart-wrenching thing. We can stop that. We can do a good job if we work together and get the word out there.
Yep, that's exactly what the podcast is about. AJ, thank you so much for coming on the Easy Prey Podcast today.
Hey, great to be here, Chris. Thanks for all the great work you do.