FBI warns of Social Security robocall scams that spoof its own number

Young woman shouting at her smartphone.
(Image credit: Prostock-studio/Shutterstock)

Telephone scammers are using the FBI's own phone number, (202) 324-3000, in attempts to bilk you out of your money and your identity, the FBI warned yesterday (Jan. 28). That number may appear on your Caller ID, but it'll have been spoofed.

The scammers will say they're FBI agents calling to tell you that your Social Security number has been suspended for some reason, or that it has been stolen, and that you need to pay to get it reinstated or that you need to move funds to certain accounts to keep them safe. 

"To protect yourself from falling victim to this scam, be wary of answering phone calls from numbers you do not recognize," the real FBI advises. 

"Do not send money or gift cards to anybody that you do not personally know and trust. Never give out your personal information, including banking information, Social Security number, or other personally identifiable information, over the phone or to individuals you do not know" — even if they curse you out when you call them on their scam.

Remember, in almost all cases, government agencies send official notifications by mail, not by telephone. If it's really serious, they'll send someone to notify you in person.

Cracking down on the middlemen

Along similar lines, the Department of Justice yesterday filed civil complaints seeking temporary restraining orders against three U.S. companies that provided Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) telephone service to robocall scammers. 

The calls come from overseas, but they need U.S. call carriers to reach U.S. residents, which is the service that the VoIP companies named in the complaints allegedly provided.

"The companies were warned numerous times that they were carrying fraudulent robocalls — including government and business imposter calls — but they continued to facilitate the delivery of these calls," said a DoJ press statement. "The calls, most of which originated in India, led to substantial financial losses suffered by elderly and vulnerable victims in the United States."

The five companies listed in the complaints are:

  • Ecommerce National, LLC d/b/a TollFreeDeals.com
  • SIP Retail d/b/a sipretail.com
  • Global Voicecom, Inc.
  • Global Telecommunication Services Inc.
  • KAT Telecom, Inc., aka IP Dish

The first two companies are allegedly owned and operated by Nicholas Palumbo and Natasha Palumbo of Scottsdale, Arizona. The other three companies are allegedly owned and operated by Jon Kahen of Great Neck, New York. 

The named individuals reportedly worked out of their homes, the DoJ said in a press call, according to The Washington Post.

A federal judge yesterday issued a restraining order against Kahen and his companies, effectively preventing them from legally doing business.

Make millions (of calls) working from home

The number of calls that these companies allegedly carried is massive — the DoJ said Ecommerce National carried 720 million calls in one 23-day period. Not all those calls were robocalls, the DoJ said, but 425 million of them probably were, as they lasted less than one second because they tried to reach nonworking numbers or the call receiver hung up immediately.

Neither Kahen, the Palumbos nor the companies they control have been charged with any crime. Unfortunately, the real crooks remain overseas, out of reach of U.S. authorities, and will probably just find new VoIP providers to connect them to victims.

"We look forward to working closely with law enforcement colleagues in India and elsewhere around the world to identify those behind these calls so that we can bring them to justice," said Jody H. Hunt, assistant attorney general of the Justice Department's Civil Division, in the DoJ press release.

"Anyone who engages in deceptive practices like imposter fraud should know, regardless of where they are, they will not go undetected and will be held accountable," said U.S. Postal Service Chief Postal Inspector Gary Barksdale.

Paul Wagenseil

Paul Wagenseil is a senior editor at Tom's Guide focused on security and privacy. He has also been a dishwasher, fry cook, long-haul driver, code monkey and video editor. He's been rooting around in the information-security space for more than 15 years at FoxNews.com, SecurityNewsDaily, TechNewsDaily and Tom's Guide, has presented talks at the ShmooCon, DerbyCon and BSides Las Vegas hacker conferences, shown up in random TV news spots and even moderated a panel discussion at the CEDIA home-technology conference. You can follow his rants on Twitter at @snd_wagenseil.