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How to Avoid Becoming a Victim of Social Security Fraud

  • Your social security number is very valuable to you and others, because it can be the foundation of identity theft. In the wrong hands, it can be used to open bank accounts in your name and apply for loans or credit cards. There are people working day and night, every day of the week, to illegally obtain these numbers so they can profit from them. There are steps you can take to make that more difficult; there are also mistakes you can make to make it easier.


    A common scheme is for someone to impersonate a Social Security Administration (SSA) employee on the phone. He or she will try to get you to send them money or give up personal and financial information that can be the basis of identity theft, reports AARP.


    Telephone calls and emails try to tempt recipients into giving up information.


    The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) states that late last year there was a surge in telephone scams involving SSA impersonators who were working the phones, making false warnings that immediate action was needed to prevent financial disaster or to increase benefits.


    • It can involve a robocall, an automated recording, providing a phone number that supposedly needs to be called to solve an invented problem.
    • A real, live caller may contact you and claim your bank account is at risk and you need to provide information to keep it safe.
    • A person falsely claiming to be an SSA representative may call with good news -- your benefits will supposedly increase if you confirm your name, date of birth and Social Security number. With that information, a scammer can ask SSA to change your address, phone number and direct deposit information so your benefits end up in their bank account.


    Criminals aren’t limited to phone calls. You may get an email that offers help but may actually do harm. It looks like it’s from SSA and will instruct you to click on a link to sign up for a service to help protect you from fraud. It actually will send you to a fake government website that will steal your personal and financial information.


    Signs that a phone call or email is part of a scam:


    • It’s unsolicited and the person claims to be an SSA employee. The agency rarely calls people out of the blue. The agency may follow up after you’ve already been in contact with the agency.
    • You’re asked for your Social Security number, something SSA already has.
    • You’ll be threatened with arrest, lost benefits or the suspension of your Social Security number if you don’t cooperate.


    What to do and not do if you receive one of these calls or emails


    What should you do in response?


    • Hang up.
    • Be skeptical if the caller claims to have an official-sounding title.
    • Report suspicious emails as spam or phishing attempts.
    • Set up a My Social Security account online and check it regularly to see if there are signs of anything unusual happening.
    • Install an app that can block robocalls on your smartphone.
    • Call AARP’s Fraud Watch helpline at 877-908-3360 if you want to talk to someone trained in fraud counseling.


    What shouldn’t you do?


    • Don't call a phone number left in a message by a robocall.
    • Don’t assume a call is legitimate if it appears to come from 800-772-1213, SSA’s phone number. “Spoofing” technology can trick caller ID into giving you any number a fraud operation wants.
    • Never give your Social Security number or personal information in response to an email.
    • Never click on links in an email supposedly from SSA.


    Social Security numbers have value, just like credit card or bank account numbers. We need to be on guard against those trying to make an illegal buck because we’re unprepared for these communications or gullible enough to believe what we’re told. We need to make these efforts an unsuccessful waste of time before the fraudsters will stop.