That letter you got could be a phishing scam

Be aware of scams targeted at seniors on Social Security.
Be aware of scams targeted at seniors on Social Security. The Detroit Free Press/MCT

It’s a scam that’s been around a few years, but like many ways the unscrupulous try to take advantage of seniors, it tends to show up again on a regular basis, with a few tweaks.

This particular scam involves a snail-mail letter from a group called The Seniors Trust, a Program of the Citizens Assembly Inc., P.O. Box 96962, Washington, D.C. 20090, or a variation of that name and address, such as The Benefit Security Coalition. With a Washington address and official-looking letterhead, the letter could look official to the average person.

The group asks for a certain amount of money — currently, often $20 — to be put in to a pool and shared to help seniors make up their Social Security shortfall. Often the letter uses fear-inducing language that suggests action must be take immediately or the recipient could lose his or her benefits. In past years, the letter has indicated sending money to the organization would restore Social Security’s cost of living adjustment. Or the letter might seem to be from a nonprofit advocacy group claiming that Congress is attempting to abolish Social Security.

That amount — $20 or less — might not seem a huge loss, but once the scammer gets a “bite,” the letters will keep coming, at an aggressive pace. In addition, for older people on fixed incomes, that $20 could be a significant part of a medicine or food budget. If you use a credit card to make the payment, that leaves you vulnerable to ID theft and fraudulent charges.

The Better Business Bureau offers these suggestions on spotting this type of phishing scam:

▪ Red flags should go up if you’re asked to act immediately. That short window is a way to push you into action before you have time to think.

▪ Don’t share your credit card information if you don’t know who’s getting it.

▪ Does it sound outlandish? It probably is. Use common sense, search the web, or call a friend or relative you trust to give you knowledgable advice.

▪ Know how your government operates. If the letter is referring to a referendum, these are not held on the national level, and they vary from state to state. Also, a federal agency will not solicit individuals.

The toll-free number for BBB Serving Mississippi, based in Flowood, is 800-987-8280.

Tammy Smith: 228-896-2130, @Simmiefran1