AARP Eye Center
Social Security numbers are the skeleton key to identity theft. And what better way to get someone’s Social Security number than by pretending to be from Social Security?
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.
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.