Just about 70 million Americans depend on Social Security benefits. It’s sad, whether you may already receiving benefits or not, your Social Security account is a very tempting target for scammers. The utter complexity of this major federal assistance program makes Social Security accounts especially vulnerable to hacking by cyber attackers. As a result of this, the Social Security Administration has identified some specifically dangerous scams that you should be aware of whether you may already receiving benefits or if you plan to in the future.
Online Social Security Account Scam
The Social Security Administration (SSA) strongly encourages all current and future beneficiaries to set up their personal “My Social Security” account on its website. By opening a My Social Security account, it allows you to check the amount of your current or future benefits. It also allows you to change your bank account direct deposit information or mailing address without having to make a visit to your local Social Security office or having to wait on hold to speak to an agent. The bad news is that scammers can also take advantage of a lot of My Social Security accounts.
Unfortunately, scammers will set up My Social Security accounts in the names of people who do not already have them. This allows them to transfer the victims’ current or future benefits to their own bank accounts or debit cards. While the Social Security Administration will reimburse the victims of this scam, it can possibly take months and leave you without benefits during that time period.
How to Prevent It
Scammers are only able set up a bogus My Social Security account in your name if they already know your Social Security Number and other personal information. And sadly, in today’s data-breach-of-the-week environment, it is all too likely. So, the best thing to do is to set up your account as soon as possible.
Anyone who is over the age of 18 can set up a My Social Security account. Even if you are not going to start drawing benefits for years, a My Social Security account can be a very valuable retirement planning tool. And when you set up your account, be sure to select the “Add Extra Security” option on the online signup form. This option will generate a new security code that will be sent to your cell phone or email every time you attempt to access your account. You will have to enter the code in order to be able log on. It can be a bit inconvenient, but it is far better than having your benefits stolen.
The Fake Social Security Employee Scams
There are a whole set of scams in which the perpetrator who poses as a Social Security “agent” will call victims regarding their benefits. For example, the scammer might claim that the SSA needs to verify the victim’s direct deposit information. In another even more complex scam, the victim is told that their Social Security benefits are going to be cut because they have inherited a house from a relative. This actually is an event that would not result in a reduction of their Social Security benefit. To help carry out the fraud, the caller will even place the recipient on hold and will play the same on-hold recordings that are actually used by Social Security.
When the scammer returns to the line, the victim is then told that the proceeds from the sale of the house will be sent to them if they first pay the back taxes. Of course, there are no inherited houses or any back taxes.
How to Prevent It
The SSA recommends that you take extreme precautions before ever giving out your personal information. The agency says;“You should never provide your Social Security number or other personal information over the telephone unless you initiated the contact, or are confident of the person to whom you are speaking.” If ever in doubt, do not release information without first verifying the legitimacy of the phone call. This something you can easily do by calling Social Security’s toll free number at 1-800-772-1213 to verify the validity of the call. (If you are deaf or hard of hearing, you can call Social Security’s TTY number at 1-800-325-0778.) Also, you need to be aware that the scammers have also perfected the black cyber crime art of “caller ID spoofing.” So even if your caller ID shows, “Social Security Administration,” it is just probably another scammer.
The Data Theft Scare Scam
Given the amount of actual government data breaches these days, this particular scam is very believable and dangerous. The scammer, who again is pretending to work for Social Security, will tell the victim that the agency’s computers have been hacked. In order determine if the victim’s account has been compromised, the scammer states he needs to verify that the SSA has the victim’s correct bank account information. To help set the hook, the scammer will give the victim account information that he knows is incorrect. In the end, the victim is duped into giving the scammer their correct bank account information. This, of course, leads to nothing but bad results.
How to Prevent It
The SSA recommends that you ignore calls and emails regarding account data breaches. The agency will never initiate contact with beneficiaries either by phone or email. Even receiving a letter regarding data breaches can end up being a scam. This is because scammers have gotten very good at making envelopes and letters look “official.” If you receive such a letter, call the real Social Security Administration at 800-772-1213 to determine if the letter is legitimate. If the letter provides any other phone number to call, do not call it.
The No COLA For You Scam
Social Security will add a cost of living adjustment (COLA) in most years based on the rate of inflation. But, in the event there is no increase in the consumer price index (CPI), as was the case in 2015 and 2016, there will be no COLA for Social Security recipients. Scammers, who again are posing as SSA employees, will take advantage of these non-COLA years by calling, emailing or sending letters to potential victims. They will state that the SSA had apparently “forgotten” to apply the increase in the COLA to their accounts.
As with other scams, victims are provided a form or link to a website where they can claim their COLA increase. They can easily do this by providing their Social Security Number and their bank account information. And by now, you know what will happen next. You can tell your money good-bye.
How to Prevent It
You do so by ignoring the letters, the calls or the emails. When and if they are given, Social Security will apply COLA s automatically and most certainly to the accounts of all current beneficiaries. You will never have to apply for them.
The New, Improved Social Security Card Scam
In this scam, the scammer will again is pose as a SSA employee. They will tell the victim that the agency is replacing all of the old paper Social Security cards with the new high tech “ID theft proof” computer chips embedded in them. The scammer will tell the victim that they are not going to get any more benefits until they have obtained one of the new cards. The scammer will then claim that he can “expedite” the replacement card if the victim will provide their identification details and their bank account details. Clearly, this is not the smart thing to do.
How to Prevent It
You should simply ignore the claims. The SSA has no plans, desire or the funds to replace millions of old Social Security cards or to begin issuing high-tech cards. In fact, the SSA recommends that you don’t even carry your Social Security card with you due to the threat of identity theft. Instead, you should memorize your Social Security number and store the card in a safe and secret place.
Report Suspected Scams
You can also submit a report by mail to:
Social Security Fraud Hotline
P.O. Box 17785
Baltimore, Maryland 21235
Additionally, you can submit a report by telephone to 1-800-269-0271 from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. Eastern Standard Time (TTY: 1-866-501-2101 for the deaf or hard of hearing.)
Thank you for taking the time to read my post titled Beware of Fake Social Security Agents. I hope that it was of service to the reader and provided needed information. Please feel free to leave Comments or Questions below. Also, if you know of any scams that need to be addressed, please leave the info below and I will be glad to investigate. Take care.