FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
Social Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) received about 360,000 reports of Social Security impersonators and related scams in 2021. That's a steep drop from 2020's record-breaking numbers, according to a recent OIG report to Congress, but it’s not for lack of trying on the scammers’ part: T-Mobile estimates that of the 21 billion scam calls flagged by its customer security tools last year, 10 percent — or more than 2 billion — were from Social Security impostors.
One common tactic involves fake Social Security Administration (SSA) employees calling about supposed problems with your Social Security number — for example, warning that it's been linked to criminal activity and suspended. They ask you to confirm your number so they can reactivate it or claim they can issue you a new one for a fee.
This is no emergency, but a ploy to get money and personal data. Social Security does not block or suspend numbers, ever.
This con is often executed via robocall — the recording provides a number for you to call to remedy the problem. In other versions, the caller threatens to seize your bank account due to illicit activity or offers to help you transfer your money to keep it safe.
Listen to an actual scam call about a supposedly compromised Social Security number. The caller's warning is 100 percent fake: The real Social Security Administration does not suspend numbers.
Audio courtesy of the Federal Trade Commission
On the other hand, you might get a call from a supposed SSA representative bearing good news — say, an increase in your benefits. To get the extra money, you just have to pay a fee, or verify your name, date of birth and Social Security number. Armed with those identifiers, scammers can effectively hijack your account, asking SSA to change the address, phone number and direct deposit information on your record and thus diverting your benefits.
Impostors also reach out via phishing emails, text messages and even old-fashioned paper mail, OIG says, and their tactics are getting more sophisticated. To feign legitimacy, they may use the real names of Social Security officials, recite “badge numbers” or stamp mailings with phony SSA letterhead. Some even create counterfeit versions of the IDs federal workers use to gain entry to government buildings, texting or emailing images of the fake credentials to "prove" they're on legitimate Social Security business.
Remember that the SSA will almost never contact you out of the blue. It will only text you if you've opted to receive notifications that way, or to verify your identity when you access your online My Social Security account. It will never threaten or pressure you to take immediate action. If you do owe the agency money — for a benefit overpayment, for example — you'll get an official letter outlining your payment options and appeal rights. With a little vigilance, it's not difficult to spot when a Social Security contact is a sham.
- You receive an unsolicited communication from someone claiming to work for Social Security. Except in rare circumstances, the SSA will not call, email or text you unless you have already been in contact with the agency.
- The message asks for your Social Security number — again, something an actual SSA employee wouldn’t do.
- It threatens consequences such as arrest, loss of benefits or suspension of your Social Security number if you do not make an immediate payment by gift card, prepaid debit card, wire transfer or cryptocurrency.
- Do hang up if someone calls you out of the blue and claims to be from SSA.
- Do be skeptical if a caller claims to be from Social Security's Office of the Inspector General. Scammers appropriate official-sounding and often actual government titles to make a ruse seem authentic.
- Do set up a My Social Security account online and check it on a monthly basis for signs of anything unusual, even if you have not yet started collecting benefits.
- Do install a robocall-blocking app on your smartphone, or sign up for a robocall-blocking service from your mobile network provider.
- Don’t call a phone number left on your voice mail by a robocaller or listed in a suspicious email or text. If you want to contact SSA, call the customer-service line at 800-772-1213.
- Don’t assume a call is legitimate because it appears to come from 800-772-1213. Scammers use “spoofing” technology to trick caller ID.
- Don’t give your Social Security number or other personal information to someone who contacts you by email. SSA never requests information that way.
- Don’t click links in purported SSA emails without checking them. Mouse over the link to reveal the actual destination address. The main part of the address should end with “.gov/” — including the forward slash. If there’s anything between .gov and the slash, it’s fake.
- You can call Social Security’s customer service line at 800-772-1213 to confirm whether a communication purporting to be from SSA is real.
- If you get an impostor call or email, report it to SSA using their detailed online form. You can also call Social Security's Fraud Hotline at 800-269-0271.
- If your Social Security number has been stolen, file an identify theft report with the Federal Trade Commission, which can help you develop a recovery plan.
- To get the latest information on Social Security scams, follow the SSA’s Office of Inspector General on Twitter and Facebook.
Updated March 11, 2022
About the Fraud Watch Network
Whether you have been personally affected by scams or fraud or are interested in learning more, the AARP Fraud Watch Network advocates on your behalf and equips you with the knowledge you need to feel more informed and confidently spot and avoid scams.
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