Published on: April 22, 2020
Social security scams are still incredibly common, and they come in many forms. For example, phishing emails are used as a way to impersonate a Social Security Administration (SSA) employee. These emails are hard to detect. In fact, according to the Federal Trade Commission, more than 92,000 people reported losing $173 million to these kinds of scams in 2018.
Falling for this scam is very easy, especially when the phishing email looks authentic. As a Social Security recipient, your message will ask for your name, Social Security number, license number, and other private information so the criminal can steal your identity. Identity theft allows criminals to open bank accounts, credit cards, and even receive Social Security benefits, all under the victim’s name.
Unfortunately, this isn’t the only type of fraud hurting people’s lives. According to the Federal Trade Commission and Social Security, the most common fraud comes from Social Security phone scams.
Social Security Phone Scams: Warning Signs You Need to Know
It can be difficult to tell which phone calls are actual scams. To keep yourself safe, you need to first understand how the SSA will contact you in case of an emergency with your identity.
The SSA released a campaign in early 2020 to educate people on how scammers work to help them prevent identity theft. They clearly state:
Social Security employees do occasionally contact people--generally those who have ongoing business with the agency--by telephone for business purposes. However, Social Security employees will never threaten a person, or promise a Social Security benefit approval, or increase, in exchange for information or money. In those cases, the call is fraudulent and people should just hang up.
Generally, the agency mainly calls people who have recently applied for a Social Security benefit, someone who is already receiving payments and requires an update to their record, or a person who has requested a phone call from the agency. If a person is not in one of these situations, they normally would not receive a call from the agency.
To put it simply, you should look out for these warning signs:
- You get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to be associated with the SSA.
- The caller threatens consequences if you do not comply with their demands (e.g., send payment, provide personal information).
- The caller asks for your Social Security number or any other private information.
- The caller demands immediate payment.
- The caller promises Social Security benefits in exchange for money or information.
- The caller demands that you pay a debt without an option for appeal.
Unfortunately, these phone scams are effective because they have an emotional impact on the potential victim. For example, if they’re threatening that benefits will be suspended, the potential victim will be fearful and comply with requests from the scammer.
3 of the Most Common Types of Social Security Phone Scams
Typically, victims receive these kinds of phone scams.
Friendly Service Calls
One of the most insidious kinds of scams, the caller attempts to sell SSA services that the agency already provides at no cost. For example, they might claim that they can enroll a family member in the program or provide a new Social Security card.
From the recipient’s standpoint, the initial reaction may be positive. After all, they’re making promises that sound advantageous. And callers may even come off as friendly and helpful, which will earn their trust. The deception sets the scammers up for success.
Threatening Phone Calls
These callers portray themselves as SSA employees, often using job titles that sound credible and may even identify themselves as a real official with the agency. After establishing their credibility with the recipient, they will threaten to issue an arrest warrant or other legal action due to supposedly illegal activity with the person’s account.
These threats can cause fear and lead to recipients not thinking rationally about the situation. Therefore, victims will do whatever the caller requests, which usually includes sending a payment. Sometimes, the scammer will direct the victim to call another phone number, where another fake representative will request personal information.
Email Attachments and Live Callers
This phone scam is becoming more common. In fact, the Inspector General of Social Security, Gail S. Ennis, issued a warning to the public about this type of fraud in January 2020.
Scammers will send official-looking documents to people’s email addresses. These attachments will include official letterhead and commonly used jargon that convinces recipients it is a legitimate document.
After people receive this email, they will get a call from a person or a robocall suggesting that there’s a problem with their account. For example, the caller will claim they found potential identity theft on the account.
These calls will align with the email phishing scam they sent to further instill a sense of trust. But, as the SSA reminds the public, if there were ever an issue with your account, you would receive an official letter in the mail, including instructions on how to fix the problem.
Protect Yourself From Social Security Fraud
It’s important to be vigilant when you get contacted by people claiming to work for the SSA. If you suspect you’re being targeted with Social Security phone scams, follow these simple tips:
- Hang up the phone immediately if you’re being threatened with legal action.
- Never call a number left by a robocaller.
- Don’t assume a call is legitimate when the number shows up as the official customer service line. Scammers can spoof numbers to trick caller ID.
- Never give your personal information to people who contact you by email.
- Hover over email attachments to see the actual URL destination associated with the attachment. You should see “.gov/.” Anything in between the .gov and the forward slash indicates that it’s a fake document.
- If the caller says they’re with the SSA, ask them for a call back number. Scammers will often either refuse to provide it or hang up. If you get a call back number, you can follow the prompts to determine if the call is legitimate.
- Fill out the SSA Scam Reporting Form to help prevent similar scams.
When you take the proper precautions, you can avoid being scammed out of money and prevent being the victim of identity theft. Fortunately, social security advocates can be helpful when you experience these issues.
Disability Experts of Florida have over 35 years of experience helping people navigate the complexities and challenges of dealing with Social Security related issues. Contact them today to learn more about how they can help you.