What to Know About Social Security Scams

The Social Security Administration is an important part of our country in the United States. As of 2021, over 65 million Americans receive Social Security benefits monthly. Unfortunately, this makes it an easy target for scammers looking to get money out of unsuspecting Americans. Read on to understand what Social Security scams looks like and how to best protect yourself against them.

Common Kinds of Social Security Scams

1. Scam calls

Phone calls are the most common form of Social Security scams. They can be friendly, with the caller offering to do something like replace your Social Security card or increase your benefits. They can also be threatening, where the caller threatens jail time because you’ve done something wrong.

There are a host of numbers that these calls can come in under. Therefore, it's hard for victims to block them by screening calls.

2. Fraudulent mail social security scams

Though mostly targeted to older victims, social security fraud via mail is not uncommon. People will receive a check in the mail along with a form asking them for personal information, like a Social Security number (SSN). It will also request money or bank account information to pay the filing fee.

The Social Security Administration (SSA) does send mail. But scammers are banking on the fact that victims don’t know what the SSA will and won’t ask for in an authentic letter.

3. Fake phishing emails

Phishing emails are also a way for scammers to reach victims. These messages appear to be from the SSA and may even be watermarked as such. The email address often looks official. However, the links within these emails take the recipient to a fake webpage that is designed to fool them into submitting their personal information.

What to Look Out For

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When dealing with potential Social Security scams, the biggest red flag is if the caller threatens arrest or legal action. The Social Security Administration makes it very clear that SSA employees will never threaten you for information or state that you face potential arrest or other legal action if you don’t give them the information they want.

Fear is a powerful motivator. Many scammers try to scare their victims into action. If you are aware that the threat is empty, you do not need to act.

Likewise, if the caller says that there is an urgent problem with your Social Security number, it’s a scam. The SSA will not contact you via phone if there is a serious problem with your account.

Be warned that some scammers have been able to manipulate, or spoof, the caller ID so that it appears on your phone as the Social Security Administration. In other cases, impersonation calls even display the SSA’s national customer service phone number, which is 1 (800) 772-1213, as the incoming number.

Phone calls, documents, emails, or texts may appear to be official even though they’re falsified. For this reason, it’s critical to understand what the contents of a spam message sound or look like. Though you may not be able to tell by the number or caller ID, you’ll know from what the person is saying whether the call is legitimate or not.

Some messages may also say that you owe a debt or need to pay a fine with pre-paid debit cards, gift cards, wire transfers, or Internet currency. These are not substantiated. If you do owe money to the Social Security Administration, they won’t be sending you text messages about it. Furthermore, they certainly won’t ask that you pay them back in Bitcoin.

How To Protect Yourself

With scams, the best defense is good offense. Don’t click around when you receive suspicious emails; delete them from your inbox. If you get a call asking for your Social Security number or threatening legal action against you, just hang up.

It’s a good practice to keep all personal information—and associated documents, like your birth certificate and Social Security card—securely stored in a location that only you have access to. If you discard anything with sensitive information on it, shred it or tear it up before throwing it in the trash. This includes papers with your SSN, bank account numbers, or address. These practices will also aid you in preventing identity theft.

Just like with all passwords, make sure to keep your online Social Security account login information secure. Change it every couple of months to heighten the safety of your account, and make sure that the passwords you choose are not easily guessed.

Report Social Security Scams

There are a couple of different ways you can make a report. If you want to report suspicious calls or if you’ve been the victim of a scam yourself, one option is to contact the office of the Inspector General (OIG). You can call the OIG hotline at 1 (800) 269-0271 or submit a fraud report on the OIG’s website.

As another option, you can report the scam on the Federal Trade Commission’s (FTC) complaint website. Give as much detail as possible in your report: the caller ID that was registered, the time they called, what they said, what information they requested, and the number the scammer called from. All of it helps to assist government employees in identifying the scammer.

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