If you have called Social Security recently, you probably heard a recorded message notifying you about ongoing social security scams. Unfortunately, scammers frequently target our most vulnerable members of society: the elderly and disabled. Thus, it is important to understand how these scams work and know what steps you should take if you, or a loved one, has been targeted by a social security scammer.
How a Social Security Scam Works
These scams usually involve someone calling by phone, claiming they are an employee of the Social Security Administration. They will give some reason for calling that requires your immediate attention. For example, they may say the computers are down and there is a problem locating your information; or that they need to enroll you in a Medicare plan; or that your social security number is being suspended; or that your bank account is about to be seized. Next, the caller will ask you to take some action. The caller may ask you to confirm your social security number, bank account information, your date of birth, and/or your mother’s maiden name. Once the caller has this information, they will be able to open credit card accounts in your name. Alternatively, the caller may ask you to wire money to them, send cash, or put money on a gift card. Anyone who asks you to do these things is definitely a scammer.
How to Avoid a Social Security Scam
Scammers are becoming more technologically advanced. Oftentimes, when they call, Social Security’s main telephone number, 1-800-772-1213, will appear on your caller ID. Here is what you need to know first: Social Security primarily communicates with you by U.S. mail. It is rare for a Social Security representative to contact you first by phone. Usually, a phone contact occurs under specific circumstances. For example, when multiple attempts at mailing letters to your address have failed, or if you initiated a phone appointment with Social Security either by beginning an application for benefits online, or previously calling the main number.
Second, Social Security sends all its decisions and announcements by mail because they are required to by law. Because you have a right to appeal the determinations of the Social Security Administration, you are entitled to written notice of any determination concerning your benefits. Therefore, if there is a problem with your benefits, you will hear about it first through a letter sent in the mail; not by a phone call.
Last, if you get a phone call and are not sure whether you are talking to a representative of Social Security, do not give them any of your personal information. Instead, advise the caller that you are not available to discuss the matter at this time and hang up the phone. Immediately call the main number at 1-800-772-1213 and wait to speak to a Social Security representative. The representative who answers that line will be able to tell you if there have been any changes in your benefits and can confirm if Social Security has sent any letters to you.
Reporting Social Security Scams
Finally, if you realize you have been a victim of a social security scam, be sure to report it. Social Security scams should be reported to the Office of the Inspector General (OIG) at Social Security, and can also be reported to the Federal Trade Commission (FTC). OIG will want to know as much information as possible to assist with an investigation such as the name of the caller, the telephone number the caller used, the time and date of the call, information requested by the caller, and any other identifying information. The OIG can be reached at 1-800-269-0271, or you can file a report online here. Similarly, you can report the call to the FTC at ftc.gov/complaint.
*Adriane S. Grace is a Social Security Attorney who regularly represents individuals in Social Security appeals in Texas. She regularly serves as a social security consultant to other attorneys, advises individuals on eligibility issues concerning retirement and survivor benefits, and has assisted families with Texas court proceedings necessary for obtaining these benefits. Attorney Grace is licensed to practice law in Texas and Virginia and is a former Attorney-Advisor to the Social Security Administration. For more information about Attorney Grace, please check out her Attorney Profile.