The Idaho Attorney General’s Office is warning Idahoans about a phone scam trying to get confidential information or money by claiming to be calling from the Social Security Administration.

In a news release issued Aug. 15, Lawrence Wasden said the scammers—most often a computer-generated recording—say the person’s Social Security number has been linked to a crime and as a result has been blocked or suspended, but that it can be reinstated for a fee. Other robocallers have threatened to end Social Security benefits unless a fee is paid to reinstate it. The recipient is also asked to confirm his or her Social Security number.

Wasden said some people have revealed sensitive information and others have mailed the scammers gift cards.

Robocallers are computer-generated voices using artificial intelligence to speak with the call recipient. These technologies are often highly advanced and able to engage with the call recipient to a degree. However, robocalls generally have a robotic-sounding voice, which can be an indication that the call is not legitimate and is being generated by a computer.

Emails have been another form to target victims, with the email formatted to look as though it came from the Social Security Administration.

Though anyone can be targeted by robocalls, the recent Social Security-related calls have been to older people receiving Social Security benefits. The Attorney General’s Office reminds Idahoans that a person’s Social Security number cannot be suspended and that if the government is taking action against someone, it will be in the form of a letter, not a phone call.

Wasden noted that the Social Security Administration will never call and ask for a person’s Social Security number or ask someone to pay a fee. The agency would also never threaten someone’s benefits, but rather send a letter suspending a specific benefit, such as Medicare.

According to Brian Delange, chief of the Consumer Protection Division at the Attorney General’s Office, it is often difficult to tell where the calls originate from because phone numbers can be “spoofed,” meaning that a caller ID can display a different number than the actual number from which the call was placed. Because of spoofing, it may be difficult to distinguish whether an actual agency is calling or not, because the number displayed may be the number of the agency.

While the Federal Trade Commission established the National Do Not Call Registry in 2003, states as far back as 1987 had been creating their own variation of Do Not Call lists, leaving it up to either the telemarketers to denote consumers who no longer wanted to be called or leaving it to the telephone companies to note the consumer’s telemarketing preference, according to the National Association of Attorneys General.

Today, legal telemarketers are bound by state law to identify themselves, state the trade name or company for which the person is calling and state the kind of goods or services offered. According to the Idaho Attorney General’s Office, if the call recipient is on the Do Not Call Registry, it is likely the robocall is a scam and should not be taken seriously.

In 2018, 48 billion robocalls were made, making them the No. 1 source of consumer complaints to the Federal Trade Commission and the Federal Communications Commission, according to the Attorney General’s Office. In Idaho, 250 million robocalls were reportedly received last year, making it a “technological plague,” according to Wasden.

Delange encourages people who believe they are receiving a robocall to not answer the phone, explaining that if it is a number they do not recognize, the person calling will likely leave a voicemail if it is a legitimate call. Most importantly, never give confidential information over the phone, and anyone concerned that his or her Social Security benefits could be at risk should call the Social Security Administration directly.

Robocall complaints can be filed with the Attorney General’s Office or with the Federal Communications Commission through its website at consumercomplaints.fcc.gov.