Scam Alert: "We've canceled your Social Security number"

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RENO, Nev. (KOLO) - The phone rings a lot at Sandra Hampel's home. Robocalls to her cell phone mostly.

No kidding. While we were there she received the 12th and 13th so far and the day was still young.

So as you might imagine, she's long since learned to ignore most and screen all, accepting only familiar numbers and remaining skeptical of the rest.

Last week, though, she found a message on her land line's voicemail. It was different and it began with a threat.

"We suspect it is an identity threat situation," a man's voice said, "and the judiciary department are canceling your Social Security number…."

He did his best to sound official.

"However, he was a little hesitant and it sounded like he was reading a script," Sandra says. "And he made an indication that I should call back immediately to avoid any disciplinary action."

Whoever he was, he delivered the threat of canceling her Social Security number because of suspected identity theft without a hint of irony.

And if she didn't call back right away, he threatened disciplinary action.

"…to avoid any disciplinary action kindly call back…."

"Like what kind of action?" Sandra says with a laugh.

If she had returned the call, she'd have immediately given the scam artist something valuable--that they'd reached a real number and a real person willing to talk.

It's likely she'd have been asked for personal information including her full or partial Social Security number.

She didn't fall for it but she worries others, retired and collecting Social Security like she does, might.

And they do. According to the Federal Trade Commission, this scam is growing exponentially. Last year more than 35,000 Americans reported it and said they'd lost $10 million.

For the record, the Social Security Administration never makes calls like this and your Social Security number is never canceled or suspended. It is, however, the key to all sorts of serious mischief.

The FTA says you should never surrender it or credit card or bank account numbers to anyone who contacts you.

If you get one of these calls you should let the Federal Trade Commission know.