Scammers are not above pretending to be government employees, according to the Social Security Administration. In 2020, the SSA received 718,000 reports of Social Security-related telephone scams. Due to those scams, a total of $44.8 million was reported lost, and the average loss per victim was $5,800.
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When engaging with a scammer who is purporting to be with the Social Security Administration, you may be threatened with arrest or other legal action, according to the SSA. Unfortunately, when you’re in a stressful and threatening situation, it’s easy to react emotionally and fall victim to a scammer’s demands. But that doesn’t have to happen. Instead, here are some tips to help you identify and protect yourself from Social Security scams.
What Happens During a Social Security Scam?
“Scammers targeting seniors on Social Security have two primary objectives: to get their Social Security number and to get cash,” said Chris Orestis, CSA, president of Retirement Genius and a nationally recognized financial, health/LTC and retirement issues expert. “They will contact people often with the message that their Social Security number has been used by someone else in connection with a crime or to falsely apply for bank accounts and credit cards. They may also contact people telling them they are entitled to receive additional payments for things such as COVID relief.
“The scammers will pose as being from the Social Security Administration and may even be disguising the number they are calling from with a fake caller ID using Social Security’s actual phone number of 1-800-772-1213, but it is very easy to fabricate a caller ID number and (cause unsuspecting people to) fall for this trick.
“They will call and tell their intended victim that, because of one of these fake reasons, their benefits are going to be shut off unless they can verify their identity by giving them their Social Security number, or that they need to verify bank account information and have the victim read them those numbers. They might even tell them that they need to send them a reactivation fee to turn their Social Security benefits back on.”
Now that you know what happens during a Social Security scam, here are some tips for protecting yourself.
“Social Security telephone scams are common,” said Martha Shedden, RSSA(r), CRPC and president and co-founder of the National Association of Registered Social Security Analysts. “My tip is to hang up and to not share or verify any information. The Social Security Administration has stated in the past that they will not call you on the phone unless you have a prescheduled call or specific ongoing business with them. These scammers may sound legitimate and official, but do not trust them. By withholding information and hanging up, you are protecting yourself and your identity.”
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Set Up an Online Account
“The easiest way to avoid Social Security scams is to setup an online account with the Social Security Administration,” said Dawn-Marie Joseph, founder of Estate Planning & Preservation. “This is one of the safest ways to communicate and get information to and from Social Security. They have special security questions that only pertain to things in your past life for you to answer.
“Anytime someone asks you for your Social Security number, you should also be wary. It is not necessary to comply with their demand for your Social Security number. Ask them if there is another way to verify your existence.”
Keep Up-To-Date on Phishing Scams
“To avoid identity theft and scams related social security, keep up to date with emerging phishing email scams,” said Daniel Markuson, digital privacy expert at NordVPN. “A phishing email is designed to trick you into clicking on a malicious link or revealing your personal information, such as your social security number. It can do so by exciting you with a deal, frightening you with a threat, or posing as a website or service you trust to claim that they need to confirm information about you.
“To avoid phishing emails that can lead to social security scams, don’t rely solely on spam filters, look for improper spellings within emails, don’t click on any links that you don’t trust (often mousing over a link will tell you where it links to), and utilize firewalls on your computer and device network settings.
“Additionally, avoid pop-up windows as they often masquerade as legitimate components of a website, but many of them are phishing attempts to get information from you. A VPN can reduce pop-up ads so you don’t have to worry about accidentally clicking on one.”
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Regain Your Online Privacy
“Navigating privacy issues in today’s interconnected and digital world is difficult,” said Rob Shavell, CEO of Abine/DeleteMe, an Online Privacy Company providing services that protect people’ online security and digital footprint. The ways in which third parties are collecting people’s information is constantly changing, and one way to protect your online privacy and avoid being scammed is removing your personal information from data brokers, search engines and the internet and protect and regain your online privacy. Scammers can easily use data brokers websites like Spokeo, AnyWho or InstantPeopleFinder to help launch their attacks. For just a few dollars, anyone can access your personal information, which can include phone numbers, addresses, court records and even lists of your family members and where they live. So, an actionable tip is to buy a service that removes your name, email, addresses and more from online data brokers who profit from collecting and selling this information, like DeleteMe, or follow the DIY opt-out guide to do it for free.”
What To Remember
According to Orestis, these are important points for people to remember:
1. Social Security will never ask anyone to verify themselves by reading off their Social Security number.
2. Social Security will never ask anyone to verify their banking or credit card information.
3. Social Security will never ask anyone to send them money.
According to the Social Security Administration, you may receive a call from the agency, but no one will ever threaten you or threaten to suspend your Social Security number, demand immediate payment from you or require you to pay with cash, gift cards, prepaid debit cards or wire transfers.
In limited situations, you may also receive a text or email from the SSA, but only if you’ve opted-in for those texts or emails.
If you do receive a text, email or call about your Social Security number or account that you find suspicious, call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 or use the SSA Scam Reporting Form to report the incident.