If you or a loved one receives Social Security benefits, you need to be aware of con artists who claim to represent the Social Security Administration. These fraudsters attempt to extract cash or personal information for purposes of identity theft. While they constantly update their schemes, they tend to stick to a handful of basic tactics. Here’s an overview of the most common ones, along with tips that can help you avoid them.
A favorite tactic of Social Security scammers is to claim that your Social Security number (SSN) will be suspended (along with the benefits associated with it) unless you act immediately. The call or email will ask you to verify your SSN before the problem can be solved.
Never give out your SSN to anyone requesting you verify it over the phone, through a web form or email. Doing so can give crooks the ability to apply for credit in your name and opens the door to other forms of identity theft. The real Social Security Administration won’t reach out by phone and ask you to verify your SSN.
Bogus payments and phony fees
In a variation on the above ploy (and one which may be used in conjunction with it), the scammer tells you by phone, email or text message that there’s a discrepancy with your Social Security account and you must submit a payment to protect your benefits.
The Social Security Administration doesn’t use phone or digital communications to demand immediate payment. While overpayments of benefits may occasionally occur and require reimbursement, you can confirm by contacting the administration at the customer service number found on its official website.
Another angle Social Security fraudsters take is to promise bogus benefits increases, requiring you to call a phone number or visit a website to request or accept them. At that point they’ll ask for your SSN, name, address and maybe even the number of the bank account where you want your extra cash deposited. They’ll extract all the information they need to make you a victim of fraud.
The Social Security Administration does offer periodic cost of living increases in benefits to keep pace with inflation, but you don’t have to do anything to receive them.
Phony callback numbers
Social Security fraudsters have been known to use “spoofed” caller IDs that cause your phone to display the Social Security Administration customer service number or another published phone number when your phone rings.
If the Social Security Administration needs to communicate with you, it will contact you by mail, so it’s best to let any call from “Social Security” go to voicemail. If you want to verify your account is in good standing, call the administration at the customer service number found on its official website.
How to protect your personal information
Here are some good practices to adopt:
- Don’t pick up unknown calls. Get in the habit of letting calls from unknown sources go to voicemail so you can review them and decide whether to call back.
- Avoid clicking links. Don’t click links or call phone numbers in unexpected emails or text messages. If you want to follow up with a company or agency, use an officially published phone number or website to be sure you know who you’re contacting.
- Don’t share your private information. Never provide personal information to prove your identity to someone who called or emailed you.
- Protect your passwords. Keep account passwords to yourself.
- Secure your accounts. Set up two-factor authentication on banking and credit card accounts.
Keeping a close eye on your records and finances is the best way to protect yourself from fraud or catch it before too much damage has been done.
For more information about financial scams, see the following articles: