FRAUD RESOURCE CENTER
It's a lesson that criminals have learned well. The Federal Trade Commission (FTC) identifies Social Security as the most common subject of government impostor scams, in which crooks pose as government officials to get you to send money or give up personal and financial data for use in identity theft.
Social Security's Office of the Inspector General (OIG) received about 340,000 reports of Social Security impersonators and related scams in the first nine months of 2021. That might be just the tip of the iceberg: T-Mobile, in its 2021 Scam and Robocall Report, 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.
The most common tactic involves fake Social Security Administration (SSA) employees calling people about supposed problems with their Social Security numbers — for example, warning that your number has 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 another version, the caller says your bank account is at risk due to the illicit activity and offers to help you 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, a cost-of-living increase in your benefits. To get the extra money, you just have to 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.
OIG warned in early 2021 of a new trick: Criminals create counterfeit versions of the badges federal workers use to gain entry to government buildings and text or email images of the fake IDs to scam targets 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. 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 get an unsolicited call from someone claiming to work for SSA. Except in rare circumstances, you will not get a call from Social Security unless you have already been in contact with the agency.
- The caller asks for your Social Security number — again, something an actual SSA employee wouldn’t do.
- A call, text or email 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. 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.
Updated January 14, 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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