Elderly Scam / Fraud Alert – Keeping your Social Security Number Safe
AARP describes Social Security numbers as the “skeleton key to identity theft.” And, scammers want those “keys” to commit fraud against older adults.
According to AARP, one common scam involves seniors receiving calls from a fraudster who claims to be an employee from the Social Security Administration (SSA). The so-called employee warns seniors that their Social Security number has been suspended because it had been used in criminal activity.
The fraudster then tells seniors they can reactivate the Social Security number or issue a new one. But first, the scammers want to confirm the senior’s identity by asking for personal and financial information. The scammers ask for a fee to resolve the problem, which seniors can pay through cash, a prepaid debit card, or a gift card.
The SSA warns seniors not to be fooled because SSA will never:
- Threaten SSA recipients with arrest or legal action
- Suspend Social Security numbers
- Demand an immediate payment
- Require payment by cash, gift card, prepaid debit card, or wire transfer
- Ask for gift card numbers over the phone or wire or mail cash
SSA says it may call Social Security recipients in some situations but will never ask them to return a call to an unknown number.
What’s more, Social Security sends emails or text messages only if recipients agree to receive updates and notifications by text or email, or as part of Social Security’s enhanced security when accessing their personal “My Social Security Account.”
In some instances, scammers call with what they say is “good news”: Social Security recipients will receive a cost-of-living increase but only if they provide the scammer with personal information. While SSA gives cost-of-living increases, the agency already has Social Security beneficiaries’ personal information. In addition, the agency does not call beneficiaries to announce a cost-of-living increase.
Ten Tips To Avoid A Social Security Scam
There are several steps seniors can take to keep their Social Security numbers safe. AARP advises older adults to:
1. Verify, verify, verify. Seniors should verify the identity of the person asking for information, and tell the caller that they will call back to talk to a customer service representative.
2. Do not provide personal information. Scammers want seniors to verify their name, date of birth, and Social Security number so that they can steal a senior’s account. With the personal information, scammers can ask SSA to change a person’s address, phone number, and direct deposit information and divert that person’s Social Security benefits.
3. Guard the “final four.” Fraudsters want the last four digits of a social security number to gain access to an individual’s personal information. AARP warns seniors not to share the digits in emails or use it as a pin.
4. Set up a “My Social Security account” online and check on a monthly basis for any unusual activity.
5. Be skeptical if someone with an “official-sounding” government title, like “Inspector General,” calls from Social Security. Scammers use official titles to make the fraud seem authentic.
6. Do not click on links from emails that appear to be from the SSA without checking them. By placing the mouse over the link, you can see the actual destination address. An authentic SSA email address should end in “.gov/” (dot-gov-forward slash). According to AARP, if there is anything between .gov and the slash, it is a fake.
7. Do not call a phone number left on your voice mail by a robocall.
8. Install a robocall-blocking device on your landline or an app on your smartphone, or sign up for a robocall-blocking service from your mobile network provider.
9. Do not assume a call is legitimate just because it appears to come from Social Security’s legitimate toll-free number: 800-772-1213.
10. Hang up if someone calls out of the blue claiming to be from SSA.
Consumer Reports adds that scammers also send purported SSA emails that instruct recipients to click on a link to register for a free service that protects them from Social Security fraud.
Report Scams to SSA
The SSA encourages Social Security beneficiaries to report any suspicious activity to the agency’s Office of the Inspector General if they receive a call or an email from someone alleging to be from the Social Security Administration.
Besides that, the SSA says seniors should not be embarrassed if they shared personal information or suffered a financial loss. The agency recommends older adults ask someone they trust for advice before making a financial decision or a large purchase.
To report fraud to the SSA’s Office of the Inspector General, call 800-269-0271. Seniors can also call AARP Fraud Watch Network Helpline at 877-908-3360.