No matter how many years have passed, that feeling of dread when confronted by an authority figure remains etched in our memories. Whether it was your stern school principal, a disappointed grandparent, or your exasperated parents at the end of their patience, the experience is universally relatable. But did you know that scammers have not only preserved this uneasy sensation but have also mastered the art of exploiting it for their nefarious purposes?
In the digital age, fraudsters have adapted to new tactics, and they are all too aware of the power of authority figures in unsettling us. That’s why they frequently masquerade as representatives from trusted institutions like your bank, the IRS, or even the police. However, in recent years, one particular “authority of choice” has risen to prominence among scam callers, surpassing even the IRS in frequency: the Social Security Administration (SSA).
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Top 5 Common Social Security Scams
Discovering the world of Social Security scams is crucial to safeguarding your financial well-being. Here are five of the most common social security scams and what you need to know to avoid falling for them. Stay informed and protected against these deceptive tactics to ensure your financial security:
1. Your Social Security Number Linked to a Crime
In this scam, you’ll get a call claiming that your social security number is linked to a crime, sometimes specifying the type, but not always. The scammer might either intimidate you, acting like you’re a suspect, or pretend to be a helpful customer service representative.
With the first kind of caller, they may threaten you with arrest or legal consequences. With the second, they might say your social security account is suspended pending an investigation or that you need a new card and number. Some variations of the scam will ask you to confirm your SSN, essentially giving it to the scammer. Others may request a fee to reactivate your account or issue a new SSN.
2. You May Have Been the Victim of Identity Theft
In a bizarre twist, some scammers claim you’re an identity theft victim to actually steal your identity. They often pose as helpful customer service representatives.
While this scheme doesn’t involve immediate threats or arrest warnings, the outcome remains the same. You’ll be asked to confirm your “old” SSN or pay a fee to get a new one.
In the boldest version, the caller may warn about potential bank account access by criminals and offer to help you transfer your money from the compromised account. Sadly, the part about moving your money is true, but the rest is pure fabrication.
3. Your Benefits Have Received an Increment
Scammers don’t always use fear; sometimes they appeal to your greed. In this prevalent Social Security scam, you’re promised a benefit increase, often framed as a cost-of-living adjustment. To get these extra funds, all you’re asked for is to “verify” your name, date of birth, SSN, and possibly your account details.
This seemingly harmless step can lead to identity theft and even fraudulent claims on your Social Security benefits.
4. Repayment Required for Overpayments Received
This scam preys on our fears by invoking stories of individuals who unintentionally spent government overpayments and struggled to repay them. Victims find these calls highly distressing as SSA impostors constantly threaten benefit loss, legal consequences, asset seizure, and even immediate jail time if they don’t pay immediately.
5. Fraudulent Communications: Emails, Texts, and Letters
Social security scams extend beyond phone calls – beware of fraudulent emails, texts, and letters claiming to be from the SSA. These are almost always phishing attempts, using the same deceitful narratives as phone calls, but providing a link to click, a number to call, or an address to reply to.
Clicking the link can lead to a fake website that harvests your personal data or infects your computer with malware. Calling the number often results in a robocall-like experience. If you send payment or personal information to the address in a bogus SSA letter, consider it lost forever.
Social Security Scams: How Prevalent Are They?
In recent years, Social Security scams have emerged as the most prevalent type of impersonation scam, where criminals pose as government officials or authorities. In 2018, the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) recorded just 15,221 reports of SSA imposter scams. However, this number skyrocketed to over 478,000 incidents in 2019 and surpassed 718,000 in 2020. The associated financial losses have also increased, totaling nearly $45 million in victim losses, averaging around $6,100 per case.
Contrary to the common perception that SSA scams primarily target older individuals, reports indicate that younger age groups are the most frequent victims, particularly those under 30 and under 50. However, older victims tend to suffer larger financial losses, peaking at an average loss of $8,565 per incident for those aged 70 to 84.
Identifying Social Security Scams: What to Look For
Spotting a Social Security scam involves recognizing behaviors that genuine SSA representatives never exhibit, such as:
- Making threats.
- Suspending your account over the phone due to alleged criminal activity.
- Demanding immediate payment (legitimate SSA correspondence explains why you owe money and provides options for appeals).
- Insisting on payment through untraceable methods like cash, wire transfers, prepaid debit cards, or gift cards.
- Sending emails or texts requesting your personal information.
- Requesting payment to increase or activate your benefits.
Taking Action When You Suspect a Scam
When in doubt about a call or message from the SSA, follow this simple rule: Do not engage. Hang up on suspicious calls, don’t respond to emails or texts, and avoid clicking links in them. For written letters, don’t reply or call any provided number.
Instead, contact the SSA directly using their published number (800-772-1213) or log in to your Social Security account. Legitimate issues will be resolved promptly.
If it turns out to be a scam, report it to the Office of the Inspector General‘s website, the FTC’s fraud reporting site, and possibly the FBI’s Internet Crime Complaint Center. If scammers used a robocall, consider filing a complaint with the FCC, as recent legislation empowers authorities to combat telephone system abuse by scammers, making a significant impact.