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Watch Out for Social Security Scams

3 big ones try to separate benefit recipients from their money

With about 55 million people receiving Social Security benefits, it's no wonder there are lots of scams aimed at separating them from that money.

See also: Fears vs. facts about Social Security.

Here are three big ones:

1. "We're updating our records."

In a common ploy, identity thieves pose as Social Security Administration employees who are making sure files are accurate. By phone, email or letter, they ask for your personal data — Social Security number, birth date, mother's maiden name, bank account number — information that can be used to steal your identity and your money.

Caller with headset - beware of callers who promise higher social security benefits.

Social Security scams can come your way by phone, email or letter. — Photo by Getty Images

Reality: Legitimate SSA reps don't contact you by email, but may reply to you by phone or letter if you've applied for benefits. Before providing any information, call Social Security yourself at 1-800-772-1213 (TTY: 1-800-325-0778) or visit your local SSA office to verify that the contact is real.

2. "We'll get you a bigger check."

Beware of anyone who offers to help you snag additional benefits for a "filing fee."

Reality: The SSA does not charge filing fees. If you feel you're due a higher benefit, you can file an appeal yourself, at no cost. It can be a complicated process, so you're allowed to hire someone to help you — but you should find that person yourself. Social Security regulates what these people can charge; representatives may face prosecution if they charge more.

3. "You've got a special tax refund coming."

Scammers say by filing a new income tax return, you can get a lump sum of about $3,000 to compensate you for the lack of Social Security COLA increases in the past two years.

Reality: You'll be charged $30 or more to file new tax forms, and you'll get no refund. But you'll have given away a trove of personal information.

You may also like: Unemployment and Social Security. >>

Sid Kirchheimer writes about consumer and health issues.

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