Watch Out for These 3 Social Security Scams — How To Protect Yourself

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Scammers are making out big in 2022. With the rise in digital payments, inflation relief checks issued by various states throughout the year and the upcoming holidays, fraudsters are finding many avenues to cheat people out of money — and they’re getting quite savvy at it. 

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Oftentimes they have your name, address and even the last four digits of your Social Security number, and they might have a script that sounds very authentic and may catch you off guard.

As 2023 brings a large cost of living adjustment to Social Security, providing most beneficiaries over $140 per month extra, as GOBankingRates has reported, scam artists are also targeting retirees to take advantage of their extra financial boost as well as possible confusion about the program and eligibility.

The Social Security Office of the Inspector General “received about 360,000 reports of Social Security impersonators and related scams in 2021,” according to AARP. While this is a decrease from 2020, as mobile providers have found better safeguards to protect customers, it’s still a large issue. In fact, T-Mobile told AARP that 10% of the 21 billion fraudulent calls it tracked last year were related to Social Security.

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In response to the threat, the Social Security Administration has provided the 66 million Americans who claim benefits with tips to identify scams and avoid falling victim to fraud.

1. Threatening or Alarming Phone Calls

It’s very easy for scammers to get phone numbers — many contact lists are for sale, and thieves participate in what’s called a robocall, or an autodialer that automatically dials and delivers a pre-recorded message that sounds official. They can also do what’s called spoofing, where they make the phone number they’re calling from look like any number they choose, and it can look like an official agency number, according to the Federal Trade Commission.

The scammers may threaten legal action or say you will be arrested or your Social Security number will be suspended if you do not send immediate payment. Sometimes they will claim you have to call a separate number to process a payment. Such threats are the first clue that the call is not legitimate. Official agents will never use threatening language or call to request a payment.

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As the Social Security Administration notes on its website, “If you owe money to Social Security, we’ll mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights. We only accept payments electronically through Pay.gov, Online Bill Pay, or physically by check or money order through our offices.” It will never ask you to send gift cards, cash or cryptocurrency as payment, nor will it accept these payment methods.

2. Fake E-Mails That Direct to Fake Websites

Phishing has become a huge problem for many consumers. In the case of Social Security scams, you receive an e-mail that looks authentic, even down to the logo, and directs you to click on a link to what has been designed to look like the real SSA site. But when you do, it actually allows the scammer access to personal information stored on your computer, without you even knowing it. The phoney site might ask you for personal information, such as your Social Security number or bank account or credit card number.

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The email might include an attachment on what appears to be the SSA’s letterhead, but again, when you open it, you give the scammer access to the personal info on your computer.

The SSA says it doesn’t solicit personal information in an e-mail, so if you receive a notice like this it should be a big red flag it’s not legitimate. Also, the SSA only sends e-mails and text messages if you have opted in to receive them for updates on programs and services. You’ll never receive a legitimate email or text asking for personal information or a call back.

3. Letter Notifying Action Is Needed

The Social Security Office of the Inspector General recently sent out an alert warning beneficiaries that fraudulent parties have been mailing letters to inform recipients that they need to call a toll-free number in order to activate an increase in benefits, such as a COLA. However, the SSA never requires you to take such action — the increase is automatic.

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Tips To Avoid Being Scammed

The SSA has a few extra tips to help you protect yourself. First and foremost, refrain from returning calls, emails or texts from any unknown number. If you have a question about a possible communication from the SSA, it’s best to call the agency directly, using the number listed at the SSA.gov site, to check in. The agency also suggests consulting with someone you trust before making a big financial decision or a large purchase.

If you think you’ve been the victim of a scam, the agency asks you to report it to oig.ssa.gov.

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