One of the most important pieces of personal information you have is your Social Security number. The Social Security Administration uses your unique nine-digit number to distribute Social Security benefits to you. It’s also required when applying for jobs or signing up for certain programs run by the federal government. Due to its importance, protecting your Social Security number is essential.
Despite the benefits they provide, Social Security numbers also make you vulnerable to identity theft, and there are all sorts of ways for a thief to use your SSN for criminal purposes. Besides trying to defraud the SSA itself, an identity thief can apply for a job posing as you, drain your bank accounts, open an account in your name, sign up for fraudulent credit cards, make purchases, commit tax fraud and seek medical assistance.
According to federal data, approximately 312,000 Social Security scams were reported during the five years ending Dec. 31, 2021, with overall losses topping $95 million, AARP reported. AJ Monaco, special agent in charge of the major case unit at the SSA’s Office of Inspector General, told AARP he’s seen Social Security imposters steal as much as $1 million from victims.
Scammers are deceitful, but they can also be convincing and sound “official,” so you must be cautious. Beware if you receive an unsolicited communication from someone claiming to work for the SSA, someone asking you for your Social Security number or someone threatening consequences like the suspension of your Social Security number, a loss of your benefits or arrest if you do not make an immediate payment — these are common warning signs of a scam. The SSA will not call, email or text you unless you have already been in contact with the agency.
Often, impersonators call about a supposed problem with your Social Security number, claiming, for example, that it has been linked to a crime. They will ask you to confirm your number so it can be reactivated or replaced with a new one for a fee. Or a call might come in bearing good news in the form of an increased benefit in exchange for your personal information and SSN (and possibly a small fee). A thief can easily hijack your account and divert your benefits if you divulge your number to them.
The SSA-OIG website offers nine tell-tale signs of a Social Security scam. Assume it’s a scam if someone calling, emailing, texting or messaging you on social media:
- Threatens to suspend your Social Security number, even if they have part or all of your Social Security number
- Warns of arrest or legal action
- Demands or requests immediate payment
- Requires payment by gift card, prepaid debit card, Internet currency or by mailing cash
- Pressures you for personal information
- Requests secrecy
- Threatens to seize your bank account
- Promises to increase your Social Security benefit
- Tries to gain your trust by providing fake “documentation,” false “evidence” or the name of a real government official
If you have come into contact with a Social Security impostor or suspect someone of committing fraud or abuse, report it to the SSA-OIG report submission page located here. Also, Monaco recommends maintaining a “security mindset” and sharing information about scams with people you know to help them protect themselves.
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