by Judy Sanderson, NENA Director
Director, Vocational Services
Granite State Independent Living
With the millions of people who receive Social Security benefits, it’s probably not surprising that a lot of scam artists use the program in fraudulent phone calls, emails, and letters. The schemes typically involve criminals impersonating the Social Security Administration in order to obtain, and then misuse, social security numbers and other personal information. They are even using Covid-19 in their attempts to defraud beneficiaries. Here are some ways scammers are using social security:
- Scammers use phone calls and email messages to impersonate Social Security personnel and trick people into giving up money and personal information.
- Common tactics include threatening the suspension of Social Security benefits or charging for services the Social Security Administration provides for free.
- Scams should be reported to your local authorities, the SSA Office of the Inspector General, or the Federal Trade Commission.
Scammers are aware that people are catching on to their attempts, so they’re coming up with new ways to convince Social Security beneficiaries that their frauds are legitimate. Here’s what to tell your ticket holders to watch for so they can protect themselves and others from Social Security scams.
1. Threatening arrest or legal action: If you receive a threatening phone call claiming that there is an issue with your Social Security number or benefits, it’s a scam. The Social Security Administration (SSA) will never threaten you with arrest or other legal action if you don’t immediately pay a fine or fee.
2. Emails or texts with personally identifiable information: If there’s a legitimate problem with your Social Security number or record, the SSA will mail you a letter to notify you of any issues.
3. Misspellings and grammar mistakes: If the caller follows up with emails containing falsified letters or reports that appear to be from the SSA or SSA’s OIG, look closely. The letters may use government “jargon” or letterhead that appears official in order to help convince victims, but they may also contain misspellings and grammar mistakes.
4. Requests for payment by gift or pre-paid card, cash, or wire transfer: If you do need to submit payments to the SSA, the agency will mail a letter with payment instructions and options through U.S. mail. You should never pay a government fee or fine using retail gift cards, cash, internet currency, wire transfers, or pre-paid debit cards. Scammers ask for payment this way because it’s difficult to trace and recover.
5. Offers to increase benefits in exchange for payment: Similarly, SSA employees will never promise to increase your Social Security benefits, or offer other assistance, in exchange for payment.
6. Supposedly friendly service phone calls: One type of scam call attempts to sell to the recipient services the SSA readily provides at no charge. The caller might, for example, offer to provide a new Social Security card, enroll a new family member in the program, or provide a record of Social Security contributions to date, along with the expected future income they will yield. Note: more recently there have been scams where the callers have offered Covid-19 testing kits for around $20. Of course, no kit ever arrives, and the scammers have gathered significant personal information in the process.
7. Fake emails: Seniors may also be reeled in by so-called “phishing” emails designed to emulate messages from the SSA. The emails typically resemble actual agency communication, including duplicate mastheads and font styles. The messages may also direct readers to a fake page designed to look like one from the SSA website. The efforts invariably seek to obtain personal information from you, which should never be provided. The same clues of fraudulent intent as with the phone calls apply here.
Note: both the SSA and the Office of the Inspector General say that legitimate emails from the agency never seek personal information and do not adopt an alarmist or threatening tone.
Reporting a scam:
If you think you’ve been the victim of a Social Security scam, report it immediately. Make sure you document anything you can to add to your report, such as a telephone number or website, the name of the caller, the time and date of the call or email, what information was requested, and anything else that may identify the person who made the call.
There are a number of ways to report a scam: