Social Security accounts present tempting targets to thieves. Even if you aren’t already collecting your benefits, it is important to keep a close eye on your Social Security account and to be vigilant about fending off fraud. There are many types of Social Security scams to be watching out for, and numerous alerts on websites like Yelp, BBB, and PissedConsumer.com prove it. Thus, understanding the risks and knowing what to look for are critical to protect yourself.
Understanding Social Security
In the United States, a social security number is assigned at birth and it is the number that is used to track your employment and your eligibility for government benefits.
Your Social Security might be disability payments or survivor benefits. It might also be the minimum retirement income generated by working the required number of years. Social security arrives as a regular monthly payment and that makes it attractive to thieves.
It is imperative to keep your social security number protected, as this is the bedrock of all Social Security scams. But it’s not just your social security number that’s required in order to commit Social Security fraud. Thieves will also need additional information that might seem innocent – your phone number, your address or your birthdate. But when the thief has enough information, it is simple for them to commit social security identity theft.
7 Social Security Scams
If the scam artist can get information from you, they can access your account and siphon off your Social Security funds.
1. Account hijacking
The Social Security Administration is encouraging everyone who currently benefits or will benefit from Social Security to set up accounts on the administration’s website, SSA.gov. The “My Social Security” account will let you make simple changes to your account and access information about your benefits.
The lack of preexisting accounts for current beneficiaries makes it simple for thieves to work in the new system. They simply have to set up your “My Social Security” account for you using some basic information. Once they have set up your account, it is easy to change addresses and route payments to their own accounts rather than yours.
When you notice the disruption in benefits, you can report Social Security fraud and the Social Security administration will reimburse you, but it can take months to sort out the issues, delaying payments.
Protect yourself: The best way to protect yourself from this sort of Social Security fraud is to beat the scammers to the punch. Set up an account at ssa.gov/myaccount/ as soon as possible. There is an option when you set up your account to add additional security. Select “Yes” for that option and you will need a code texted to you every time you log in. That will make it extremely challenging for a thief to access your account.
2. Data breach scam
It is almost impossible to find a company which has not had a data breach. Thus, it’s pretty convincing when someone calls to tell you that the Social Security Administration has been hacked as well. This is why the Data-Breach scam works so well. The thief contacts you to let you know that there has been a breach of security at the Social Security Administration and they are calling to confirm that the information in your account is still correct.
The fraudster will then give you fake account information. When you correct the scammer with the correct information, they simply write down all of the real account information you just provided. You have unwittingly given the thief everything they need to access your bank account, steal money and to potentially steal your full identity as well.
Protect yourself: The best way to protect yourself from this sort of Social Security fraud is simply to avoid any phone or email contact about Social Security. The Social Security Administration will never contact recipients by phone or email.
If you do receive a letter from the Social Security Administration, there is still a chance the information is fraudulent or a scam. Contact the Administration directly by calling 800-772-1213 to confirm the validity of the letter or to report Social Security fraud.
3. Update Social Security card scam
Your paper social security card is probably pretty beat up. It stands to reason that there might be a time when the card is due for an upgrade – especially once you start receiving benefits. Scammers will call or email potential victims to notify them that no new payments can be processed until they have updated their card to the latest version.
Naturally, to update their card they have to send in or to report some key details about their Social Security accounts, including their numbers, bank account information, addresses and virtually every detail required for Social Security identity theft.
Protect yourself: Your old paper social security card is the only one you need. Do not believe anyone who tells you otherwise – especially if they request key details about your account. Again, if you receive a letter from the Administration, call their offices directly.
4. Cost of living adjustment scam
Social Security benefits are typically adjusted each year in order to keep pace with inflation. However, there were years with no adjustment of cost of living due to energy prices. Situations like this present an exciting opportunity for scammers. The Social Security administration has issued a statement specifically warning recipients about this scam.
Thieves simply contact victims to let them know that they haven’t applied yet for their cost of living adjustment. Victims can be interested in getting the increase they have used to before the application period expires. Scammers request some basic information to process the request – essentially the type of information needed for Social Security identity theft.
Protect yourself: There is no need to ever apply for a cost of living adjustment with the Social Security Administration. The adjustments are done automatically, but they don’t happen every year. If you suspect fraudulent activity, report it to the Social Security Administration.
5. Double fake scam
Clever thieves realize that we are working hard to avoid scams, so they play on those fears. One more way they have discovered to steal Social Security benefits is to claim the victim has already been scammed. The thief calls and tells the victim that the Administration’s software noticed a discrepancy and flagged their account as being potentially breached by a hacker.
The fake-SSA employee will ask to confirm account details with the victim. The scammer will ask about a recent bank account change and rattle off a new account number that they know is invalid. The victim will correct the caller and will update their account numbers over the phone.
They will also probably have to confirm the social security number and address as part of the process. The thief is counting on the victim being shaken by the possibility of theft and being more willing to part with the information.
Protect yourself: A phone call from the Social Security Administration is immediately a cause for concern. If you are contacted by phone about a potential security breach, tell the caller you will call him back and call the Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213. By calling the true administration, you can confirm that your account is safe and report Social Security fraud at the same time.
6. Extra Social Security check scam
Those who already receive Social Security benefits are occasionally targeted by mail, mimicking the Social Security Administration’s actual form of contact. The letters in the mail tell senior citizens that they are eligible for an extra social security check. All the recipient has to do is to fill in the form and to send it back and the administration will send the extra check they qualify for.
In truth, the letter and accompanying form are scams. However, the delivery method makes the offer seem much more real. The form will request information like Social Security and/or bank account numbers, among other personal details. This information, should you mail it back to the scammer, will give the criminal everything they need to access your account and your funds.
Protect yourself: One rule of thumb is to follow up on an offer that seems too good to be true. The SSA is not in the business of sending out extra funds, and if you are offered “free” money, you should be suspicious as to why.
Any offer that makes you suspicious can be checked easily by calling the Social Security Administration. If the letter is legitimate, you can speak with an actual representative about your concerns. If the letter is fake, you can report Social Security fraud immediately. Your concern may not only protect you, but may raise a Social Security fraud alert for the agency as well.
7. Phishing scams
The Social Security Administration is not exempt from phishing troubles that other financial institutions experience. Phishing is a scam where a thief sets up a fake website that looks almost identical to the real one, in this case the SSA website.
The fraudster will then send you an email asking you to login to your account or to update some information on the Social Security Administration website. The scammer will provide a link to the fake website he/she’s created.
You click on the link, see that the site you’re on looks correct and enter the information provided. Naturally, the thief then collects the information you’ve typed into their fraudulent website and goes on to use that information for his own purposes.
Protect yourself: Phishing scams are not limited to the Social Security Administration. You should also be wary of emails from banks or credit card companies asking you to login and to complete information. If you have been emailed this sort of request from the SSA, you should be immediately suspicious.
How to Protect Your Social Security
There are countless variations that thieves may try, and you never know what the scam artists will try to do next. Always be alert and cautious when it comes to any banking or financial matters. Some general steps you should follow include:
- Never provide financial information over the phone or by email unless you have initiated the call. There are certain times you may call the Social Security Administration to discuss questions regarding your account. If the bank calls you, however, simply call the actual bank’s number to eliminate the chance of fraud before discussing your account.
- Contact the Social Security Administration about any contact you have from the agency. If you receive a phone call, a letter or an email, it never hurts to call and to confirm the validity of the community. Your call may also serve as a Social Security fraud alert. Contact the Social Security Administration by phone at 1-800-772-1213.
- Report suspicious phone calls not just to the Social Security Administration, but to the Office of the Inspector General. You can reach this office by phone at 1-800-0271 or file a report online for a Social Security fraud alert.
- Check similar scam alerts across platforms and review websites. People often report Social Security scams to warn others.
- Ignore all verification emails. You can assume that banks and financial institutions already have your information. If you see an email asking you to verify sensitive information, it is almost certainly a scam.
Social Security fraud is sadly common among retirees and those on disability. Thieves know there are many ways to get information or to direct funds from recipients using simple scam techniques. Don’t be taken in by these scams and always be on the look-out for new ones.