National Social Security Month is celebrated in April and is dedicated to educating people about Social Security programs and services. In 2019, about 64 million Americans will receive Social Security benefits. Unfortunately, whether you already receive benefits or not, your Social Security account is an enticing target for scammers.
The Social Security Administration (SSA) estimates that scammers call thousands of Americans daily, looking to obtain personal information, steal benefits or both. Scammers can use Social Security numbers (SSN) to commit identity theft and file tax returns in your name to steal your refund. In addition, identity thieves can use your SSN and your good credit to apply for more credit in your name. They then use the credit cards and don’t pay the bills, damaging your credit in return. You may not find out that someone is using your SSN until you’re turned down for credit, notified that someone else has already claimed your tax refund or you begin to receive calls from unknown creditors demanding payment for items you never purchased.
During National Social Security Month, whether you are already receiving Social Security benefits or plan to in the future, BBB encourages you to educate yourself on how five dangerous Social Security scams work.
- Fake Social Security Employee Scam
In late 2018, the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) reported a rise in scams involving fake SSA employees calling people with warnings that their SSN had been used to fraudulently apply for a credit card or used in another criminal activity. The name on your caller ID may even back up that claim. In order to fix the situation, the caller posing as an SSA “agent” asks you to confirm your SSN and other personal information. If you don’t cooperate, the caller threatens to take you to court or have your SSN blocked or revoked. This is no emergency, but a ploy to get your money and personal information. Social Security does not block or suspend numbers, ever. The SSA recommends taking extreme precautions before giving out your personal information. You should never provide your SSN or other personal information over the phone unless you initiated the contact or are confident of the person’s identity with whom you are speaking.
Alternatively, you may get a call from an alleged SSA representative yielding good news, such as a cost of living increase in your benefits. In order to get the extra money, the scammer claims you must verify your name, date of birth and SSN. Armed with those personal identifiers, scammers can effectively take over your account, asking SSA to change the address, phone number and direct deposit information on your record and thus redirecting your benefits to them.
- Data Theft Scare Scam
In another scam reported by the FTC, scammers again claim to work for SSA and tell you that the agency’s computers have been hacked. In order to find out if your account has been compromised, they need to verify your SSN and correct bank account information. The SSA recommends ignoring these calls and/or emails regarding account data breaches. The SSA never initiates contact with beneficiaries by phone or email.
- New, Improved Social Security Card Scam
The scammer, again posing as an SSA employee, informs you that the agency is replacing all old paper Social Security cards. In order to issue you the new high tech, “ID theft proof” card embedded with a computer chip, the caller needs you to confirm your SSN. The scammer claims that they can expedite the replacement card if you provide your bank account details. Currently, the SSA has no plans to replace millions of old Social Security cards or to start issuing new, high-tech cards.
- Social Security Administration Phishing Scam
In another imposter scam, scammers will send out emails that appear to be from the SSA and instruct you to click a link to register for a free service that will protect you from Social Security fraud. Ironically, this is a phishing scam, designed to guide you to a fake government website that will steal your personal information. In another version, the email says your bank account is at risk due to illicit activity and offers to help you keep it safe.
In other reports to the FTC, people have found spoof websites that look like the place where you would apply for a new Social Security card, but these websites are a setup to steal your personal information. If you receive a phone call or are directed to a website other than ssa.gov that is claiming to be associated with the SSA, don’t respond. It’s most likely a scam.
- Online Social Security Account Scam
The SSA recommends all current and future beneficiaries create a free “My Social Security” account on ssa.gov. With an account, you can receive personalized estimates of future benefits based on your real earnings, see your latest statement and review your earnings history. It also makes it easy to request a replacement Social Security Card, change your address or check the status of an application online.
In this scam, scammers will set up My Social Security accounts in the names of people who do not already have them, therefore allowing them to transfer the victims’ current or future benefits to their own bank account. It’s recommended to set up your account as soon as possible, even if you don’t intend to start drawing benefits for years. Anyone over the age of 18 can set up their free My Social Security account. Scammers can only set up a counterfeit My Social Security account in your name if they already know your SSN and other personal information.
No matter the details, social security scams are designed to induce fear. Scammers hope that under pressure you will tell them your SSN and other sensitive personal information. To report a Social Security scam, go to BBB Scam Tracker.