It is no surprise seniors are targeted for Social Security scams since the majority of seniors are recipients of Social Security benefits. And unfortunately, it is a scam that has been growing over the years, reaching new levels and becoming the number one type of scam reported to the FTC.
The most common Social Security scams use phone calls or emails to reach their victims. In most if not all of these scams, the criminal poses as an employee of the Social Security department. These scammers are professionals and know all the right things to say to seniors to sound convincing as they attempt to gain our trust.
Most of the Social Security scams are looking to gain personal information from seniors. Once they have obtained the data, they are looking for; they use it to open credit card accounts in your name or buy untraceable gift cards or goods online.
In this article, we will discuss the different tactics scammers use, how to identify these scams, and what to do if a scammer has contacted you. Understanding and identifying Social Security scams is the best way to avoid becoming a victim of one.
The Email Scam
Emails scams, also known as phishing scams, are ones when you receive an email that looks like it originated from a legitimate sender such as the Social Security department. The most popular emails claim:
- That you need to update your personal information to continue to receive benefits.
- You are eligible to receive a bump in your Social Security benefits due to a cost of living adjustment, but first, you need to login and update your information.
- You owe money due to an overpayment, and to avoid penalties or additional fees, you need to repay the money immediately.
The email will direct you to a replica website that will ask you for personal information such as:
- Social security number
- Home Address
- Full name
- Bank Account Number
Once they have obtained this information, they can open new accounts in your name and or even redirect your benefits.
Another Social Security phishing scam used on seniors involves downloading malware onto your computer without your knowledge. If you click on a link, it can allow a type of spyware to access your computer, which will give the criminal access to your data stored online as well as passwords for different websites including banks and credit card sites.
The reason seniors are targeted in phishing emails is that criminals hope to prey on those with limited knowledge regarding technology.
How to Identify Phishing Emails
There are a few ways to identify a phishing email:
- The email will have a generic greeting and does not address you by name.
- The email will ask you to click on a link to update your information.
- The email will claim there is a problem with your personal information.
- The sender’s email address will not look legitimate and may be made up of random letters and numbers.
- The email will stress urgency in acting now to ensure you avoid any delays in receiving your benefits.
- Per the Federal Trade Commission – Social Security will not send you an email asking you to give us your personal information, such as your Social Security number, date of birth, or other private information.
Now that you know some of the red flags on how to identify Social Security phishing emails, you can act to avoid these scams by deleting the email, not clicking on any links, and updating your security software.
If you think that the email may be legitimate, contact your local Social Security agency before acting on the email requests.
The Phone Scam
The most common Social Security scam is initiated over the phone. The reason phone scams work so well is that they can talk their way into your checkbook. Since they are speaking with you over the phone, they can overcome any objections or questions and pressure you to act immediately, not giving seniors the time to research or check to see if this call is real.
The scammers know that using threats of cutting off Social Security checks can often be enough to frazzle their victims into giving over the information they might not otherwise give if asked using email.
The phone scam is when the scammer calls claiming they are from the Social Security department and are contacting you because:
- They need to update your information.
- There was a mistake with checks and you need to pay them over the phone with a credit card to avoid penalty charges or delays in your next Social Security check.
- They have shorted you money and need to verify your bank account information so they can pay you the shortage immediately.
Unfortunately, due to technically savvy criminals, they have found ways to trick your caller-id into showing the 800 number for the real Social Security office, so you can no longer use that to help determine the legitimacy of the caller.
How to Identify Phony Phone Calls
There are a few warning signals to listen for to help you identify if the caller is part of a Social Security scam. According to the Social Security department, they will never call and say or ask for:
- They will never say your SSN has been placed or hold or suspended.
- Require immediate payment over the phone.
- Threaten to have you arrested or take other legal action unless you pay over the phone.
- Threaten to withhold your Social Security benefits.
- They will never call to update your personal information.
- Request payment in the form of gift cards or internet currency like bitcoin.
- Request your credit or debit card information.
- Request you give your bank account information.
- Demand repayment of Social Security benefits without the option of an appeal.
- Promise benefit approval, increase, or expedited processing in exchange for payment over the phone.
There are times in which repayment or changes to your Social Security benefits may occur; however, the Social Security department often sends a letter of notification instead of a phone call or email.
If you are concerned the person you are speaking to is not legitimate, hang up and call your local Social Security department directly.
The Current Event Scam
Scammers often use tragedies such as natural disasters to aid in their scam. For example, in March of 2020, the Social Security department released a statement saying that many seniors received letters claiming to be from the Social Security office. The letter stated that due to COVID-19, the offices were closing, and benefits would be withheld unless the letter recipient called the 800 number provided.
When the potential victim called the number, they were asked for personal information and payment in the form of:
- Retail gift cards
- Wire transfers
- Internet currency
- Cash mailed to a specified address
The scammer would claim the payment would allow their Social Security benefits to continue without interruption. Unfortunately, the letter wove in a bit of truth, making the message appear more real.
Though the COVID-19 incident scam will pass once offices return to business as usual, other scams will pop up based on the events going on at the time.
Scammers prey on fear, and when they can use tragedy or unrest to their advantage, they do so, knowing their victims are already feeling the stress of current events.
What to Do If You Think You’ve Been Contacted by a Scammer
If you think you have received a fraudulent email, letter, or phone call, the Social Security office has asked you to call and report the incident to the Office of the Inspector General at 1-800-269-0271 or go online to https://oig.ssa.gov/.