Although technology has improved our lives in many ways, it has also made us more vulnerable to identity theft. By the end of fiscal year 2019, the Social Security Administration (SSA) had received over 450,000 complaints regarding scammers who pretended to be SSA to obtain personal information and steal benefits. Here, we discuss common Social Security scams and the actions that you can take to protect yourself.
Picture this: an SSA employee calls to warn you that your Social Security number became associated with criminal activity and was suspended. The employee can reactivate the number and send you a new card for you for a fee if you verify your identity with some personal information, such as the last four digits of your Social Security number, date of birth, and address.
Sometimes, a robocall will leave you a message along the same lines and provide you a number to call back and provide with information. You might also be notified that your bank account is now at risk due to discovered illicit activity, and, if you provide your account and routing information, you can pay for a service to monitor and protect it. Instead of a phone call, you might receive an email with a link to a free service that can protect you from Social Security fraud.
People have also been called by SSA to notify them of a cost-of-living increase; by verifying name, date of birth, and Social Security number, the increase can be activated immediately. You might even receive mail on official SSA letterhead with similar instructions.
Unfortunately for many people, none of the above are legitimate overtures by SSA to help you. It is crucial that you know SSA never blocks or suspends Social Security numbers for any reason. Anyone warning or threatening you in this way is not employed by SSA and is trying to get your personal information illegally.
With your identifying information, scammers can change the information Social Security has on file and steal your benefits. Often, scammers only need a few pieces of information to wreak havoc on your life and steal your benefits, among other things. With your Social Security number, date of birth, and bank information, or any combination of the three, scammers can instruct the real SSA to send your benefits to their own bank accounts.
How can you protect yourself from SSA scams? The most important thing you can do is to stay skeptical. Hang up the phone if you are feeling pressure to divulge personal information. You can then call your local SSA office and ask if they actually do need you to verify anything about yourself. Set up an online SSA account and monitor it regularly. Never, under any circumstances, give out your Social Security number over the phone or via email.
The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) has an online reporting form for SSA scams. If you have been contacted by someone trying to imitate the federal government, file a report. And consider adding your name to the national Do Not Call Registry; it won’t block everyone trying to contact you, but it will help. Get into the habit of rejecting phone calls from numbers you don’t recognize, and be wary of clicking on email links from suspicious senders.