Social Security • August 20th, 2020

Protecting Yourself from Social Security Application Scams

Stephanie Faris

Key Takeaways
  • Social Security scams typically involve contacting you by phone, email, or mail.
  • The Social Security Administration (SSA) will never threaten a lawsuit or arrest if you don’t pay, nor will they ask for money via gift card or debit card.
  • If you believe you’ve had an attempted Social Security phone call scam, email scam, or mail scam, report it immediately to the Office of the Inspector General.

A Social Security Administration scam call, email, or letter can be tough to spot, especially as fraudsters have grown more sophisticated. As with the IRS, though, the SSA doesn’t call consumers about issues with their account. One popular scam involves calling to tell you that you have an extra Social Security payment, but you first need to provide some information for the application.

When asked, “Will Social Security call you?” the agency says it uses text messages, email, and social media to communicate general information about programs and services. Phone calls and emails may also be made to verify information you’ve provided. The agency does not use these methods to ask for money. The below information can help you learn to quickly recognize a Social Security scam so you can avoid it.

Common Types of Social Security Scams

There are several types of scams targeting those with Social Security numbers, but they often have the same goal: to convince you to give sensitive information. The caller may request personal information like your Social Security number or date of birth. In some instances, the caller wants money and will try to coerce you into paying money via gift cards, prepaid debit cards, cash, or other methods.

Fraudulent & Threatening Phone Calls

Perhaps the most disturbing type of Social Security scam call is the one that threatens legal action or, worse, arrest if you don’t pay some amount immediately. The callers will say there’s an issue with your number, your account or your benefits, possibly due to identity theft.

Trouble with the law isn’t the only way they try to get you to take action. This type of Social Security phone scam has them threatening to suspend your Social Security number if you don’t remit payment.

The IRS will never call you to demand payment for an issue. Most importantly, though, employees will not threaten you if you don’t pay.

If you get a threatening phone call relating to your Social Security benefit, you can consider politely requesting a written letter detailing the issue mailed to you from the caller. Do not provide your mailing address to the caller - if they are legitimate, they should have your full contact information. If not, you’ve just avoided being scammed!

Fraudulent & Friendly Phone Calls

Social Security fraud calls aren’t always unfriendly in nature. In fact, some take a more positive spin on it. In those instances, the caller promises some type of benefit if you pay an application fee immediately by phone. Although it’s already established that the SSA wouldn’t be calling you in the first place, it’s also important to state that they won’t coerce you into paying money, either.

Email Phishing

Social Security scams don’t just operate by phone. You may receive the same types of friendly or threatening information by email. In these instances, you’re asked to provide information by clicking on a link, which redirects you to a website. This is what’s known as phishing, and it’s a popular method used by cyberattackers.

In this method of Social Security fraud, you’re providing sensitive information on a website instead of giving it out by phone. The email may even have attachments that include professional-looking letterhead, making them appear very legitimate. Even though the correspondence appears legitimate, the email or letter may have misspellings that serve as a telltale sign they’re fraudulent attempts.

Mail Fraud

Fielding a fake call from the Social Security Administration isn’t the only issue you might face. Some fraudsters use the U.S. mail to dupe consumers. The problem is, mail is typically the way the government reaches out, so it can be tough to ignore a threatening letter. Even worse, fraudsters have gotten better at creating legitimate-looking stationery copying SSA letterhead.

There are many variations of this, but they typically use the same tactics found in phone- or email-based scams. The letter will probably direct you to call a phone number, at which point you’ll be prompted to provide personal details like your Social Security number or payment information.

The most recent scam has scammers notifying you that there are issues with your payment due to COVID. This has so far been limited to mail, but be aware it could become the newest iteration of the Social Security call scam.

Best Ways to Protect Yourself

It’s important to note with these Social Security scam phone calls, emails, and mail requests, that this simply isn’t the way the SSA operates. The agency does not reach out to consumers via phone or email. If you’ve already been in contact with them, you may get a call, but they will never call you and ask for your Social Security number or payment.

Here are a few ways to keep yourself safe from Social Security scams:

  • Report any Social Security number scam attempts immediately to the Social Security Administration
  • Pay attention to the SSA’s warnings on the latest scams - up to date information here
  • Do not answer or return calls from unknown numbers
  • Hang up on callers asking for personal information
  • Safeguard your Social Security number
  • Never provide bank or credit card information to an unknown caller you have not verified
  • Request written documentation from caller before providing any personally identifiable information, especially payment information

Reporting Social Security Scams

The Social Security Administration wants to combat malicious activities, so they make it easy to report Social Security fraud. You can submit a report on the Office of the Inspector General website. You’ll need to gather as many details as possible, including the date of incidents and the phone number it originated from, as well as the phone number you were directed to call.

Once you’ve submitted information about your Social Security phone call, email, or letter, the OIG will investigate. Unfortunately, they won’t be able to share information about the investigation, including any findings, but the more victims report these attempts at fraud, the more equipped the SSA will be to not only investigate but also warn others.

Final Thoughts

If you believe your Social Security number was compromised in a phone call or other scam, it’s important to keep a close watch on your credit in the coming weeks and months. The information can be used to establish new credit or take out loans in your name. If you do have any issues with your Social Security, a financial advisor can help you sort things out.

Author

Stephanie Faris

Stephanie Faris has written about finance for entrepreneurs and marketing firms since 2013. She spent nearly a year as a writer for a credit card processing service and has written about finance for numerous marketing firms and entrepreneurs. Her work has appeared on Money Under 30, The Motley Fool, MoneyGeek, E-commerce Insiders, and GoBankingRates.