Personal Finance

How To Spot Common Social Security Scams — And Keep Your Money Safe

Knowing a few key things about how scammers operate will help you protect yourself.

The U.S. Social Security Administration officE.
Nam Y. Huh / AP
SMS

If you or a loved one are at the age to be thinking about Social Security, you also need to make sure you’re aware of Social Security scams.

Social Security scams are unfortunately common. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) received more than 27,000 reports of Social Security scams in 2022, resulting in $75 million in losses. The SSA Office of the Inspector General’s most recent report on Social Security scams tracked reports of scams and scam attempts on people of all ages, so while you might think you need to protect your older relatives (and you should), scammers are after everyone’s money. All adults should be aware of them.

Thanks to people reporting scams, the U.S. Social Security Administration (SSA) is able to issue warnings about the most frequent scams and offers tips on how to avoid them. The agency says there are a few key things to look out for and know when determining if you are being scammed.

SSA Won't Call You

First, one of the most important things to know is that the SSA won’t ever call you. The No. 1 contact method for scammers is by phone, so if you get a phone call from someone claiming to work at the Social Security Administration or another government office about your Social Security, you should hang up immediately.

If there is an issue with your Social Security, the agency will mail you a letter with payment options and appeal rights — but they won’t call. You may receive an email or text, but only if you’ve opted in to receive them. Most likely, you will only get something in your mailbox.

SSA Won't Demand Immediate Payment

Scammers pretending to be government employees may demand immediate payment with a threat attached. The SSA will never threaten you with arrest or legal action if you don’t pay a bill immediately, nor will they suspend your Social Security number or promise a benefit increase if you pay.

SSA will also never ask you to send gift cards, prepaid debit cards, wire transfers, Internet currency, cryptocurrency or cash through the mail.

If the SSA does send you mail, you would only be asked to send money through the official federal website, use their Online Bill Pay, or mail a check or money order to their offices.

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Understand Phishing

Keep in mind that scammers pretending to be from the United States government will have caller ID numbers, texts and documents that may look official. But knowing how these phishing scams work will help you spot things that seem suspicious, even if you aren’t sure whether something is credible.

A caller (or sender, if the scam is through email) may say there is a problem with your Social Security number or account. If via email, it’s important to avoid clicking on links or attachments, because they could include malware, ransomware, viruses or other damaging programs.

Even if you don’t think you’ve been scammed, you should check your credit reports on a regular basis to look for any suspicious activity that could indicate you’ve been the victim of identity theft. You should also secure your Social Security card in a safe place and rather than carrying it with you.

Fake Credentials and Boosted Benefits

While most of the Social Security scams have remained the same over the years (e.g., threatening arrest, asking you to pay with gift cards, etc.), the Office of Inspector General (OIG) says new reports are showing that scammers are reviving an old tactic that is designed to gain people’s trust.

The scam involves mailing and texting pictures of real or doctored law enforcement credentials and badges to prove that they are legitimate. The OIG says the scammers may change the image or use a different name, agency or badge number, but the scam is the same.

Another current scam you’ll want to look out for includes fraudsters promising to boost your monthly benefit. According to Experian, these “empty enhancement” scams work by making it seem like you only need to visit a website or make a phone call to request your increase, but once there, you’ll be asked for more information, like your Social Security number and maybe even your bank account number.

How to Report a Social Security Scam

If you think you’ve been scammed or were able to avoid a scam, but still wish to report it, visit the Office of the Inspector General’s website and click on “Report Scams.”